Amsterdam vs Copenhagen…
…Netherlands vs Denmark
Part 2 – Basic junction anatomy
Here I’m going to provide some sketches of junctions which are designed to make it safe and easy to cycle (they support those on foot too). The first part of the series looked at differences in the design of basic cycle tracks – and here I want to discuss what happens when roads with cycle tracks meet.
This 3 part series is spread over three separate blog articles.
Individual junction designs are often very different from one another. If you follow the Google Streetview links in this article you’ll see that few of the real situations show something exactly like the drawing I’ve provided. What I hope to explain here are some features that make a Dutch junction feel like a Dutch junction – and a Danish one feel like a Danish one.
Take note that the previous warnings still apply (as in part 1).
What I’m aiming for is to convey my overall impression of the differences in infrastructure design. The images in this post are simple sketches, illustrating my overall impression of the differences in relatively standard infrastructure in each place. These images are not to scale, and almost certainly contain errors when compared to real infrastructure. What I’m drawing here is simply a set of idealised images, intended to convey the differences in general approach which I’ve observed during my visits.
You’ll detect that I tend to talk about Copenhagen rather than the whole of Denmark. My knowledge of Danish infrastructure is more limited than my knowledge of the Netherlands so I can’t easily speak of other main cities.
1. Copenhagen: major junction
Here is a junction where there is provision for cycling on all the branches of the road. This occurs typically where two important roads meet. In both the Netherlands and Denmark (certainly in Copenhagen) we’ll expect to see that cycling is accommodated through the junction in one way or another.
The principles I’m illustrating here tend to apply across various different sizes of junction – the design principles apply even when more lanes of traffic are present than I show.
We can see the following in the design – note that these points are picked up in the next section to provide a comparison to the Netherlands:
(NB: If you are viewing this on a small screen try with your device in both landscape and portrait orientation to check which makes it simplest to see/read the images/text)
The segregated provision for cycling – the cycle track – stops before the space where pedestrians cross and re-starts after passing the space where pedestrians cross (as you leave the junction).
The stop line for those cycling is close to (but often ahead of) the stop line for those in motor vehicles.
If you want to turn right here you have to wait with all of the other traffic/bicycles.
There is wide painted blue stripe across the junction signifying the route taken by those cycling.
Those wishing to turn left at the junction do so in two stages (explanation on cycleguide.dk). I’ve read that this is required by the rules, but I’ve also read that it isn’t.
People cycle across the first arm of the junction and then show an ‘I’m stopping’ hand signal (explanation on cycleguide.dk) – moving slightly to the right, then turning to point across the second arm of the junction. There are two people in this drawing who have done this.
I’m assuming (but didn’t check) that the branches of the junction are released in a sensible order, minimising the wait.
The rules, conventions, and habitual practice, mean that those turning right in motor vehicles wait for those travelling ahead on a bicycle.
People really do this – it’s not just the rules.
People waiting to walk across the road do so on the footway, and have to cross all of the road (including across the cycling part) to the opposite section of footway.
Here are some Google Streetview locations showing junctions which are roughly of this nature. The details are not all the same on all of these – look carefully for where the real junctions are different to what I’ve drawn.
Use Streetview to have a wider wander around Copenhagen to look for these features yourself.
While using Streetview you’ll also notice that there are still many junctions between major roads there where no provision has been made for cycling at all, or where it only exists on one or two branches of the junction.
On Streetview you’ll also encounter a relatively common feature where there is a merging of right turning vehicles with bicycle traffic (where the bicycles are going straight ahead or also turning right). Those cycling join the motor traffic temporarily. This is a way to manage issues with right turning vehicles.
2. Netherlands: major junction
This is a typical/stereotypical main junction in the Netherlands. This drawing has the same dimensions as both the Copenhagen example above and the UK junction at the end of the article.
We can see the following in this design – compare each point with the Copenhagen design above:
The segregated provision for cycling – the cycle track – continues through the place where pedestrians cross. There is a zebra crossing (often with no signals) across the cycle track. In theory pedestrians have priority here, but in practice there’s some give and take and (rightly or wrongly) there is a relatively relaxed attitude to this from all involved (people on bikes also don’t get upset if you cross in other places so long as you don’t stand in the way on the cycle track).
The stop line for those cycling is on the edge of the road to be crossed (those waiting to cross from left to right in this image). This makes for a much narrower stretch of unprotected cycling – the actual distance that people travel on the roadway is minimised.
If you want to turn right here you don’t have to wait with all of the other traffic/bicycles – this only involves crossing zebra markings (with no signals).
The path for bicycles crossing is marked with painted white ‘elephant’s footprints’.
The rules, conventions, and actual habitual practice, mean that those turning right in motor vehicles wait for those travelling ahead on a bicycle, or crossing on foot (unless the junction is intentionally designed differently).
There is also the use of triangular ‘sharks teeth’ markings in white paint. These are used in any places where it is necessary to explicitly indicate who has priority.
The sharks teeth markings are used in multiple situations. Here in the drawing those travelling (from right to left) on the cycle track have priority over those joining the track from the road. Sharks teeth markings work very well to show fine details about priority.
Sharks teeth markings also help to make it very clear which direction bicycles should travel on more complex junctions – so helping to make clear what is and is not for one-way use. In this drawing the sharks teeth make it obvious to those on the cycle track that they should not turn left here.
People waiting for signals to walk across the road do so on the outside of the cycle track, having already crossed the cycle track, with a much shorter section of road ahead of them. Take note that I didn’t draw this very well – I’d expect a larger area to stand on.
At the point where people are crossing the road they are well away from the swept corner (so they step onto the road and are walking at 90 degrees to the kerb – compare this with UK design where people often cross at the curve of the road).
I also added a central refuge/island to this drawing. I’m not sure that this is so accurate for a road with only two lanes, but it seems to me that Netherlands designers are generally more willing to narrow traffic lanes like this – perhaps not least because the cycle tracks are protected at this point. Often there are several such refuges/islands where a junction involves multiple lanes of traffic and provision for trams too.
Here are some Google Streetview locations showing junctions which are like my drawing – or mostly like the drawing. The details are not all the same on all of these – look carefully for where the real-life designs are different from those I’ve drawn.
(Alexanderplein: I’m aware that the infrastructure shown in example D1 has been re-designed since the Streetview photographs were taken but it illustrates this design nicely.)
Use Streetview to wander around a town or city in the Netherlands to reach an understanding of how common these designs are (or aren’t) in comparison to the alternatives.
3. Netherlands: side road junction
Clearly there are situations where a road with a cycle track crosses or passes the end of a smaller road which does not have a cycle track.
This time I’ll start with the Netherlands image.
In the Netherlands there is a standard and very common treatment for such a junction which involves the cycle track and the footway carrying on across the end of the smaller road.
You can see the following:
The border between the cycle track and the road remains – and this usually involves a distinct sharp short ramp. The cycle track is flat but raised above the road level.
The kerbs on the side road narrow the side road before it meets the footway – creating a helpful visual effect, slowing turning/exiting traffic, and reducing the space in which those on foot and cycling are more vulnerable.
The side road is specifically designed so as to be narrow, actively slowing vehicles. It carries two-way cycling, but one-way motor vehicles.
Those driving (who almost certainly also cycle sometimes) reliably wait for people on the cycle track or walking on the footway. Visually it is completely clear that this is footway/cycle track space and that the person driving is not on a piece of roadway. There are no painted lines, no changes in paving, nothing to suggest that they can drive here (other than the fact that they can see a roadway on the other side of the footway).
I’ve heard various names in the UK for this design – I prefer ‘continuous footway’. I don’t call it ‘continuous cycleway’ because the design is also used regularly when there is no cycle track. This isn’t just a way to prioritise cycling, but also to make the city MUCH more friendly for those on foot.
In the Netherlands this ‘continuous footway’ has a secondary purpose – not so obvious to observers from outside the country. It indicates to those driving into the quiet side road that it is a quiet side road. It’s a ‘gateway’ feature. People driving know that once they pass into a side road over the continuous footway that they should expect a radically different design of road. This signals that on the side road they may have to drive very slowly, and where priorities are shifted so that those on foot and on bikes are quite likely to be in the roadway.
The one-way roads are also likely to be arranged so as to prevent through traffic – meaning that the only people driving into these roads are doing so to reach/leave a property on these roads – radically reducing traffic levels.
Below are some Streetview images of this kind of junction.
4. Copenhagen: side road junction
In Copenhagen the same continuous footway feature can be seen. It’s less common, and really good examples are rarer, but it is still used extensively and is very effective.
We can see the following – which are worth comparing to the Netherlands design:
As in the Netherlands the cycleway and footway both cross the end of the side road. And as in the Netherlands the width of the side road often decreases – for visual effect, making turning speeds slower, and making the area where people (on bikes or walking) are vulnerable much smaller.
Because the cycle track is only separated from the roadway by a small kerb (and a slight height increase) there is no ramp – however the kerb continues. It may be reduced slightly in height. There are also occasions where the kerb may be removed and a blue stripe may be added to highlight the cycleway instead – or where the kerb is higher a tarmac ramp may be added.
It’s much more likely in Copenhagen than in the Netherlands that the side-streets will carry two-way traffic. They may well be designed so that even at the entrance to the side roads there is space for two lanes of traffic.
Here are some Streetview images of continous footway (and similar) in Copenhagen. Not all of these are good examples. Look back to the Netherlands for the better designs.
Have a wander around Copenhagen using Streetview. Take note that in comparison to the Netherlands there are many more busy/fast two way ordinary streets where there is no provision for cycling at all.
5. But now the important bit
So you thought that this post was all going to be about fancy junction designs like those above? Actually these fancy designs could distract you from what I think is really important.
This is specific to the Netherlands.
Go looking in Google Streetview – at Amsterdam or Utrecht – for the Dutch junction designs I’ve drawn. You will find junctions that look like what I’ve drawn. They are fairly common. And you’ll see all sorts of other arrangements. And there’s no denying that you’ll also see some sub-standard infrastructure – for example some painted cycle lanes.
BUT what you’ll see most is junctions which don’t have any obvious provision for cycling at all and which might look something like this:
Firstly take note that I’ve not drawn any moving motor vehicles. The streets are arranged – in particular with the one-way system – so as to make them useless for through traffic. A network of such streets is often bounded – where it meets main roads with two way traffic – by junctions with continuous footway (with or without a cycle track) as in section 3 above. This means that the roads are quiet (in all senses).
People can walk on these streets with little risk.
The junction design itself includes a ‘raised table’ – where the road level rises to slow traffic. You can see the standard marking for the ramp.
The roadway is narrowed. Those on foot have a much reduced distance to cross.
Because of this the corner is very tight making traffic travel very slowly.
And there’s lots of other stuff going on here. There are signs of life and habitation. There’s greenery – lots of plant life. There might be places to sit. There may be bollards. There are probably parked bicycles. It’s all a bit cluttered – and generally that’s a good thing. Some of these junctions and streets can feel like an extension of the living space for the residents. It’s clear that people live here and that you’re driving/cycling in their space.
To my mind THIS is by far the most important junction design to remember when you think about what makes cities in the Netherlands what they are. It’s not so pretty to draw because there aren’t any cycle tracks and not much white paint – and this design might easily be forgotten – but it is incredibly important.
This doesn’t look like infrastructure designed to support cycling, but what’s going on here IS very important for the support of cycling. AND this kind of urban design is also incredibly important for making the streets nice to walk in (or to sit in, stand chatting in, play beside, wheel through, and so on).
Take a wander on Streetview. Remember THIS design may be the important one to remember.
6. Oh… and then there’s the UK…
So to finish. Here’s what a standard level of support for cycling looks like in the UK. The same can be seen in many other countries. I’ve fitted four lanes of traffic into this space – it is exactly the same space as shown on the main junction designs for the Netherlands and Copenhagen that I drew above.
So that’s not very exciting… where’s the infrastructure supporting cycling?
Well what I’m presenting on this article are diagrams which show how cycling is typically dealt with at junctions in each country. This, above, is typically how cycling is dealt with at junctions in the UK. The standard infrastructure ignores (or almost ignores) cycling. People on bicycles have to mix with the other vehicles.
Of course there are exceptions. There are a few places in the UK where some (relatively) good designs have been built. But they are very few and there is no typical design. Even where there is some provision for cycling it is different in every city, and on every junction within a city. And often whatever is there is only just worth having at all.
I should say that I’m not trying to put people off cycling in the UK. I should remind everyone that this failure doesn’t make it impossible to cycle safely in the UK. If you’re prepared to take a long route to your destination – to get off and walk sometimes – and generally to behave like a rat running around behind the skirting board (i.e. behind the wall of a room) then you can get to your destination safely, fairly quickly, and maybe even enjoy the trip.
One of the people using bicycles in this drawing is doing this – they are walking. That’s slow, but not as slow as waiting for the signal. It also carries some risk – the pedestrian ‘reservation’ in the middle of the road isn’t quite big enough for the bicycle so the person is needing to be alert and watching for danger.
There’s also someone fighting for space… being squeezed between the back of a bus, parked cars, and a following car.
They will be OK because they are fit and fast. An older person or a child wouldn’t do this. You can tell that the person is probably wearing lycra, and they will need to have a shower when they get to work.
I’ve drawn two branches of the junction with ‘advanced stop lines’ – a space where those on bicycles can officially stop in front of stationary traffic. Arguably this is better than nothing at all to support cycling. Take note that the vehicle has encroached into this space and is close behind one bicycle. Also note that to get to this space those cycling have had to squeeze between this car and legally parked cars. We allow the need for people to park cars to be placed above the need for the safety of those walking and cycling.
And this isn’t much good for those on foot either. There’s a whole lot of waiting around. When you cross you’re doing so at a point where the kerb hugs the building – ensuring that people can drive around the corner with as little inconvenience as possible.
In the UK we tend to strive for every possible road to be allowed to carry as much traffic as possible.
Importantly what this means is not just that ‘main’ junctions are designed in the way above – but that many more junctions are treated as ‘main’ junctions. In the Netherlands and Copenhagen lots of connecting roads are treated as minor side roads (perhaps with the designs above). In the UK these are treated as main roads – dedicated to through traffic.
So we don’t just get this horrible main-junction design in places where in the Netherlands and Copenhagen there would be a good main-junction design – we also get a lot more ‘main’ junctions.
Lastly I’ve drawn that someone chose to cycle on the footway (UK “pavement”).
It may also be that cycling is actually allowed somewhere on one or two of the footways that I’ve drawn. There may (or may not) be some signs to show this. Some of the crossings may also allow cycling. It may even be that a ‘toucan’ crossing – where it is legal to cycle – ends on a footway where it is illegal to cycle.
Or it may be illegal to cycle here. It can be difficult to tell. I have professional expertise on cycle signage and I know the legislation/rules very well. But sometimes even I can’t work out from the signs where it is legal to cycle and where it isn’t.
So that’s the UK. No standard practice. No normal way to support cycling. We haven’t even decided on the colour we’re going to use to indicate cycling infrastructure yet (whereas there are pretty standard colours in Copenhagen and the Netherlands).
Part 3, once I’ve written it, will probably compare the overall effect of the differences I’ve discussed in parts 1 and 2. Watch this space. In the meantime there are lots of other articles on this site.
Lastly – for those people who know one of these countries well I have a request. Please let me know if you think that I’ve got this right (or if I haven’t). If you can provide further information then please do use the comments. People can read these to check what others think, and I may also update the article if I learn of any big mistakes.
- Amsterdam vs Copenhagen (part 1)
- What nobody told me (about Netherlands urban design)
- Copenhagen bus stops
- Scroll below for comments.
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