Enschede – a pioneer for cycling

My final Dutch city report is about the place where I was based throughout my time in The Netherlands (I just took day trips by train to visit the other centres). Enschede (pop. 150,000) is near the eastern border of The Netherlands and like most cities here has a historic town centre around which a larger modern city has been built. Apart from a brief overnighter in Delft coming into The Netherlands, I started in Enschede, ended here, and spent most of my days wandering around it. I chose this as my base because our previous visiting Dutch experts to Christchurch, Leo de Jong and Mark Brussel, live and work here (formally I was based at Mark’s ITC Dept of Urban and Regional Planning and Geo-Information Management at the University of Twente).

Plenty of bikes parked near the Engineering School at the University of Twente
Plenty of bikes parked near the Engineering School at the University of Twente

When I first arrived at Enschede and walked from the station to my hotel, I was intrigued to see standard painted bike lanes on the road leading there. “But, but, The Netherlands don’t do painted bike lanes!” many people splutter. As you have seen in earlier posts however, they do crop up with more frequency than you might expect, especially on roads of medium traffic volumes. Enschede however did tend to have more of them than most cities I visited. Where they tend to differ at least from NZ cycle lanes is that they become separated from the roadway approaching main intersections, which allows some protection from turning traffic and also separate traffic signal phases.

Protection at least at the intersections
Protection at least at the intersections

What I hadn’t realised before I came to Enschede is that the city was actually the pioneer for two interesting developments in Dutch cycling infrastructure:

A birds-eye view of a priority roundabout
A birds-eye view of a priority roundabout
  • Providing priority to people cycling around roundabouts: Back in the early 1990s this concept was first trialled here. Where I was staying there was a busy inner-city roundabout right outside the front door and it was fascinating to watch it in operation (I even had the option of being able to view it from my 15th floor balcony!). So would they work in NZ? I don’t see why not if designed correctly, and maybe with raised path platforms also to reinforce the crossing priority (note: we are only talking about single-lane roundabouts!). There is actually some debate in The Netherlands about the relative safety of this configuration vs a “motorist priority” layout, but I think they have considerable merit.
Bikes get priority as cars enter/exit the roundabout
Bikes get priority as cars enter/exit the roundabout
  • Allowing an “all-ways green” Barnes Dance for cycling at signalised intersections: You are probably familiar with a typical pedestrian Barnes Dance crossing where all traffic stops and people can walk across in any direction at the same time. The same concept was applied to cycling to/from any direction at a number of busy intersections first in Enschede in the early 2000s. Since then it has shown up in many other cities (e.g. the ones seen in Groningen). Unlike the separate signs used there, Enschede sometimes uses a special green cycle signal with arrows in it instead.
A special green for going in any direction
A special green for going in any direction

Again, like other cities visited, there were other interesting features also noted about cycling around Enschede, including:

  • The relatively new 50+km “fast cycle highway” F35 linking Enschede to neighbouring cities (so numbered to match the parallel A35 motorway route).
The start of the F35 fast cycle route. Note behind the sign the rubbish bin that you can throw stuff in as you cycle past!
The start of the F35 fast cycle route. Note behind the sign the rubbish bin that you can throw stuff in as you cycle past!
  • A very beautiful cycle overbridge, across a busy intersection, that winds back on itself.
Curves always make a bridge look pretty
Curves always make a bridge look pretty
  • Use of “2 minus 1” road cross-sections; these are particularly common on narrow country roads (together with a 60 km/h speed limit). Cars can only use the advisory cycle lanes (or “suggestion lanes”) for passing each other when the way is clear of bikes. Would love to see some of these on a few NZ country roads.
A space by default for cycling even when there's not much width overall
A space by default for cycling even when there’s not much width overall
Hard to see but there's a little countdown above the small red cycle signal
Hard to see but there’s a little countdown above the small red cycle signal

And a few more interesting pictures of note:

Even the fast cycle highway has to give way sometimes, mainly due to traffic interaction with the adjacent railway crossing
Even the fast cycle highway has to give way sometimes, mainly due to traffic interaction with the adjacent railway crossing
Like elsewhere, Enschede has a large traffic-free centre that is great for walking and biking (and shopping)
Like elsewhere, Enschede has a large traffic-free centre that is great for walking and biking (and shopping)
Waiting for the turn signal (but you can go straight ahead)
Waiting for the turn signal (but you can go straight ahead)
More 30km/h zones everywhere in Enschede, whether in the residential streets...
More 30km/h zones everywhere in Enschede, whether in the residential streets…
...or downtown
…or downtown
Bypasses behind the bus stops (but not behind the shelters)
Bypasses behind the bus stops (but not behind the shelters)
Red lights everywhere, but the illuminated sign says "free right turns for bikes"
Red lights everywhere, but the illuminated sign says “free right turns for bikes”
An entrance/exit to a busway and, like Christchurch, the bikes have to stop and wait
An entrance/exit to a busway and, like Christchurch, the bikes have to stop and wait
In front of these houses, there's only a busway and a cycleway - car parking at the rear
In front of these houses, there’s only a busway and a cycleway – car parking at the rear
A continuous cycle counter display - so far this year it's averaging 1900 bikes a day
A continuous cycle counter display – so far this year it’s averaging 1900 bikes a day
Can't get enough of those priority roundabouts...
Can’t get enough of those priority roundabouts…

As you can see, plenty to whet your appetite there. Some very clever traffic engineering is evident in many places (not just for cycling – some great busways too), but I do wonder whether greater use of on-road painted cycle lanes is limiting cycle numbers a bit. Hard to know, because there were still huge numbers of bikes (apparently ~26% of trips).

So that is a flying summary of some of the main cities that I visited in The Netherlands. I will wrap up next time however with an overview of my general lessons learned and (more importantly) how they could apply to Christchurch.

If you had to pick just one, what has been your highlight of the things shown around the Netherlands?

3 thoughts on “Enschede – a pioneer for cycling”

  1. I really like the cycle highways…with improved cycle infrastructure in the city centre and from the suburbs to the city centre, cycling should become a more attractive and safer option for most townies. But what about if you live in West Melton, Rolleston or Kaiapoi land like to commute to Christchurch by bike? Although I know some people who live there and bike into town now and then, for most people this would not be an option. Cycle highways make this journey more feasible with less stops, separation from motor traffic and smooth asphalt.

    YouTube video of a cycling highway in the north of Holland (Almere)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUTHljwWzDA

  2. I’d have to say one of the best things judging by the photos would be the continuous coat of red paint on the cycleway. Here in Christchurch, green paint chip is usually on the approaches to the intersections, where the Netherlands have the paint across the intersection along with other markings.

    Also, that cycle counter is pretty cool- I’d like to see one on the new Uni-Cycle route on Matai Street!

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