Dutch-style intersections: "That works – our slogan and recipe for success."
19.01.2022 | General
They manage traffic flows and make junctions safer for cyclists and pedestrians. The concept of protected intersections not surprisingly originates in the Netherlands. Sjors van Duren is a Senior Consultant for Sustainable Mobility and an expert in cycling mobility at Royal HaskoningDHV, a renowned Dutch consultancy for sustainable transport solutions and a member of the Dutch Cycling Embassy. We spoke to the planner who is improving roads all over the world.
Hello Sjors – protected intersections are garnering greater attention in Germany. A traffic junction is to be converted into a "Dutch-style intersection" in the city of Darmstadt by 2024. A model project – but why is it taking so long?
Yes it's possibly a model project! It's a major task to take Dutch-style intersections as a model and then roll them out across Germany. It also highlights an interesting clash of different philosophies.
Transport in the Netherlands is approached with a mixture of theory and pragmatism. Put simply, we have a manual full of measures and if a measure might fit a certain situation, in most cases we just try it out. If the solution works, we develop it further. If not, we leave it. A kind of informed trial and error.
How do you see problems being tackled in Germany?
I think academic expectations are greater in Germany. Any measure first needs to be scientifically investigated in a test environment, then a pilot project is implemented, which is observed for two to three years. Only after it has been precisely evaluated will it be developed further. But then it can also be implemented on a large scale.
And which approach has proved most successful in road traffic measures?
You can't give a general answer to that. Both approaches have their advantages. In smaller projects, perhaps the benefits of a more pragmatic approach outweigh the advantages of an academic approach for large, nationwide projects.
It’s not easy to liberate yourself from the prevailing mentality. For example, in the Netherlands we sometimes approach complex problems in too pragmatic a way and then need to take corrective action. It might be the case in Germany that an academic approach is applied to small-scale projects that really isn’t necessary – so adjustments may have to be made here too.
That's where you come in as a Dutch cycling expert – what’s your specialist role here?
(Laughs). I see myself as the ''crazy'' Dutchman who is allowed to say anything. If I propose a measure based on a Dutch perspective and my experience, it often meets a different level of acceptance. Perhaps it gets looked at again after having been previously rejected or not even considered.
» We are more pragmatic than the Germans. We do not insist on achieving the highest standards at every point. We pursue the approach of straightforward feasibility. We proceed according to the slogan: That works! Our recipe for success. «
What are the consequences of these different planning mindsets when we look at the possible introduction of protected intersections in Germany?
As an academic, when I have a complex project in front of me, I look at similar large projects to learn from their structure, data and experiences. For example, this might be a project that has already been completed in car or rail transport. However, the factors here are usually more obvious or easier to calculate, such as the number of road users, which routes they take, what speeds are reached or the impact on nature conservation areas. In contrast, most cycling projects are not large-scale and data is therefore seldom available for them.
How do things look for planning work in urban transport?
The conditions are quite different. Factors are more fluid and all possible combinations of a plethora of modes of transport come together – pedestrians, bikes and Cargo Bikes, e-scooters, cars, trams and buses. A gradual pragmatic approach may be more promising here than an academic approach that might be applied, for example, to the expansion of a motorway.
Is a pragmatic approach also faster?
No, not necessarily. Implementing complex traffic measures takes a long time everywhere – even in the Netherlands. When we build a protected intersection, it can take up to ten years or longer for all the necessary construction measures to be gradually implemented. These projects require planning enthusiasm and capacity, i.e. the funding has to be available and political will is needed to venture into the unknown.
In most cases, improvements can be achieved with minimal effort: for instance, by changing lane markings, adapting traffic lights to the actual situation and separating lanes using boarding. The many pop-up bike lanes that were quickly set up in many cities around the world during the first coronavirus lockdown are a good example of this.
What is your role when you are called in as a consultant on a project?
I am a qualified town planner and keep an eye on the overall infrastructure and the various interest groups. I sit down with all the parties involved and discuss requirements and expectations. Then I talk to the specialist planners responsible for the measures, for example for a very specific junction.
And a plan emerges from this...
Exactly – in Holland they talk about "established interests". This means that a plan reflects the needs of the groups involved at a particular point in time. The plan might be great today, but in a few years it might no longer meet changing needs. Basically, if I fail to persuade opposing parties of the merits of my plan, it will simply not be implemented. That's why you have to think carefully at the outset about everyone who might be affected and get everyone around the table.
Can you give us an example of a crucial project that was implemented through communication?
We planned a cycle highway in Beuningen near Nijmegen in the Netherlands. People living around a primary school initially did not want it. Fast cyclists and the children's route to school were understandably not a perfect fit. We entered into dialogue with them and identified their concerns. They were worried that there would be fewer areas where parents could give their children a kiss before school. The need for sufficient space between the cycle path and the school was taken into account in the planning, enabling that section of the cycle highway to be completed.
At another location, the cycle path was to go over a bridge and then close to the gardens of existing houses. Residents didn't want this, believing that their privacy would be threatened. In agreement with the municipality, hedges were planted to form a visual barrier, enabling this section of the path to be completed.
Many thanks for the interview, Sjors!
Sjors van Duren is a Dutch spatial planner and sustainable mobility consultant at Royal HaskoningDHV in Amersfoort. As an expert in bicycle mobility, he has been in charge of numerous cycling projects in the Netherlands, but also in Germany and other countries since 2008. The expert is also active in other projects through the Dutch Cycling Embassy.