Protected bike lanes work great, keeping vulnerable cyclists safe and separated from large, dangerous vehicles. But eventually the bike lane will meet the traffic lane, throwing everybody together. The design of these inevitable intersections is what separates the truly bike-friendly cities from the pretenders, so it’s no surprise that these amazing junctions are to be found in the Netherlands:
The video (which is a bit old but has been recirculating, and is worth watching at frequent intervals for continued inspiration) shows just how important cycling is to road design in the Netherlands. Instead of being an afterthought, it is the main design concern, starting with the desire to make the motor-traffic lanes take up as little space as possible. Then, at crossroads, cycle lanes cross the main road at right angles, so that cars can’t “right hook” cyclists. Even the traffic lights are phased to make it possible for a cyclist to execute a two-stage left turn without having to wait.
But the crown jewel of Netherlands’ intersections is the roundabout. Roundabouts are already the safest way for cars to meet at an intersection, as well as the quickest to navigate. In their regular form, where bikes are forced to share lanes with cars and trucks, they’re a bit of a nightmare for cyclists. You really have to be bold to use one–there’s no hiding by the curb here. The Dutch design fixes this by adding an extra–separated–ring around the outside, for bikes. There is enough space between the car ring and the bike ring to let cars exit their own section and wait for a space in the bike traffic, without getting in the way of other cars. The design is ingenious, and bikes don’t even have to engage with cars if they are turning right.
But it can go to a whole other level, literally. On a very large roundabout, the bike lane goes under the car lane where they cross. Cars are forced to go up, while cyclists stay on the level instead of having to climb an artificial hill.
The whole setup in the Netherlands is amazing. It’s flat, the roads are designed to favor cyclists, and drivers are trained, if only by familiarity, to share the streets with bikes. The most important lesson is that–as in other biking paradises in Europe–this isn’t just some natural state. These were conscious projects designed to change how the streets work. If it can happen there, it can happen here.