Hey everyone, I’ve seen the future of transportation in cities and it has nothing to do with driverless cars, connected vehicles or other unproven technology. Instead, it consists of streets that are great places to live, cycle, and walk. The transportation future we want looks like Utrecht. Like most Dutch cities, Utrecht is a generation or more ahead of New Zealand when it comes to multi-modal transportation systems and street design.

Here is a remarkable street re-design project in Utrecht that shows both how far behind we are, and some simple things we could do to improve things. ‘t Goylann is located Utrecht’s city centre. The re-design incorporates many features that are common to big street retrofits in the Netherlands.

Before describing these features, it’s worth considering the context for the change. Utrecht’s population is growing rapidly along with its reputation as a great place to live and do business. Increasingly, access to and through the city centre is being strained by lack of space and competing and conflicting use of road space, including space to store bikes. The city recognises the competition that transport/mobility places on urban space and has committed to key projects that both improve connections between key destinations as well as release space for public use and improved walking and cycling conditions.

This is all outlined in the city’s “Utrecht Attractive & Accessible” plan.

The Utrecht Attractive & Accessible plan declares that streets with more than one lane of traffic in each direction do not belong in the city centre because they sever city neighbourhoods and make residential living unpleasant. A key component of the plan is to re-direct traffic further around the city using the outer ring road. Meanwhile, the inner ring road has been “demoted” and re-designed for better amenity and residential living quality, and to ensure that it is easy for people walking and cycling to cross. This is the ‘City Boulevard’ project.

ʼt Goylaan

As mentioned above one of the design attributes of the new street was the reduction of lanes from two to one in each direction. This “demotion” of ’t Goylaan from a big road to city boulevard is based on a wider network goal of removing through traffic in this area and instead directing it around via the existing ring road. This traffic planning approach of prescribing traffic along specific routes, moderating the impacts of traffic, and restricting traffic in places is a common feature of Dutch urban transportation planning. I discussed it here in Delft as well.

This is one of the things that we haven’t figure out yet. In our anglo traffic engineering dominated countries, traffic remains largely unregulated and accommodated everywhere, regardless of alternative network routes, adjacent land use activities, or safety considerations.

In addition to re-routing traffic, the remaining lanes of traffic were designed to achieve good traffic flow by removing a traffic signal. Removing signals is also a design feature of many new street design projects in the Netherlands. The traffic capacity of urban lanes is regulated at the intersection. Instead of two lanes that are moving less than half of the time because of a signal, there is now one lane that is moving most of the time. So the change is not that big of a capacity difference.

The traffic signal was replaced by a Priority Square. The Priority Square is similar to a roundabout, but the cars turning inside the roundabout don’t have the right-of-way, instead they wait for gaps in traffic to turn.

Bi-directional cycleways are provided on both sides of the street and intersections have classic protective islands. Along the corridor, cyclists have priority at (along) the intersection. Cyclists crossing the boulevard give way to cars. This is all clearly demarcated using asphalt colouring, painted markings, and universal give way rules.

Another key design feature is that cyclists and pedestrians only cross one lane of traffic at a time. Narrow, confining lanes make crossing each lane of traffic easy and safe. This approach is also used for cars entering and exiting the boulevard. Queue spaces are provided for cyclists and drivers to cross one stream of traffic at a time.

Because of the wide planted central medians, cars can’t turn across the street in many places. Limiting cars turning across traffic is a standard feature to reduce conflicts with pedestrians and cyclists and generally improves traffic flow. Cars instead turn across traffic at the intersections, or at mid-block gaps – both are designed for u-turns. Traffic turning on and off the boulevard is also minimised by one-way side roads, and local traffic restrictions that limit wider through traffic.

While these design improve traffic flow, safety, livability, conditions for walking and cycling, it makes driving short distances everywhere-to-everywhere difficult. People driving have to use specific routes, and circle back to destinations. It would probably melt NZ traffic models.

The central planted median includes closely spaced street trees that are already a substantial size with less than a year in the ground. In places, parking is provided in raised bays between the kerbside trees which proves a good trade-off for space and overall public realm quality.

The City Boulevard is one of five or more incredible new street design projects that I saw in Utrecht. The City Boulevard in particular has many design features that I observed across the Netherlands. None of these designs are standard, but all are designed to achieve the same results: improve traffic flow, improve ped and cycle crossings, save space, minimise turning conflicts, and slow traffic.

As cities explode again with popularity, figuring out how to make city streets better places to live and get around without a car is the most promising future transportation “technology”.

For more information about this project and Utrecht’s plan, check out Mark Wagenbuur’s great Bicycle Dutch website.

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37 comments

  1. It be more cars and bike and wailk so still don’t need public transport to get any where because no future for public transport because every one wants it gone for good one place will have new improve heavy rail

    1. Actually, that’s incorrect. Utrecht has a very good transit system that includes urban busways. You simply walk, or ride, to the nearest stop. They have also 4 tracked the heavy rail line thru the city and into the new 100k resident development in Leidsche Rijn.

  2. Notwithstanding everything in Kent’s article It really helps that Netherlands has always had density, great public transport, a cycling culture, compact easily navigable layouts and safe easy pedestrianized streets.

    Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aspire to the same but its not all that easily transferrable to hilly, low density, unplanned sprawl where car is king – and has been the only real option for generations.

    The Dutch do this really well and have done for a very long time.

    1. “Netherlands has always had density, great public transport, a cycling culture, compact easily navigable layouts and safe easy pedestrianised streets.”
      No it has not! The Dutch were just as car dependent as New Zealand a few decades ago.
      This is just another way of saying that the Dutch had to make little effort but it is, of course, much too difficult for us!

      1. Yes, but NZ doesn’t have the density & transport is a derived demand.

        Whilst urban planners in NZ continue to write land zoning rules (the RMA was meant to be effects based not town & country zoning based) we will have more of the same. We need:

        1) A land based tax & rates system (not capital based). This will favour efficient land use & denser development – the land value wont be directly proportional to the density.

        2) City Development Corporations which have the right to designate land, amalgamate parcels & “rezone” for higher density in the right places – eg TODs. We don’t need more than 3 or 4 floors.

        3) Road users (cars, trucks) paying their full costs which they don’t currently do. This will make PT, cycle and walking relatively more attractive.

        4) Ideally the RMA approach revised, current district plan zoning scrapped & a set of NZ wide effects based standards adopted.

    2. So let’s address each of your points:

      1. density – actually the density of Dutch cities has dropped over the last 30 years. In some places like De Pijp in Amsterdam, it is half what it was in the 1970s. The Isthmus of Auckland is actually quite dense and Auckland is the second densest city in Australasia (behind Sydney).

      2. great public transport – excellent then let’s keep improving ours and stop saying it can’t work.

      3. a cycling culture – NZ also had a great cycling culture until the 1980s, especially in places like Chch (that has a population very similar to Utrecht) but even in Auckland. In fact, Chch used to be the second biggest cycle city in the world after Copenhagen. A lack of cycling infrastructure
      to make cyclists feel safe (just like the Netherlands until the 1970s) and the helmet law killed that.

      4. compact easily navigable layouts and safe easy pedestrianized streets – great so lets create more of those. Give me 10 bollards and I will turn everything from Customs to Victoria Street into a pedestrianised zone. It only takes political will not technical genius.

      5. hilly – except that cycling doesn’t seem to be affected by hills in NZ. Hilly Nelson is a huge cycle city while flat Hamilton has almost no cyclists. The hilly Isthmus has Auckland’s highest cycle mode share while flat Manukau has the lowest. And despite being perfect in every way, Chch still only has a mode share of 3%.

      6. low density, unplanned sprawl – then let’s change that. This is all part of the process. Figure out what has worked in other countries and fix our system

      Any other excuses? The weather – which have to be the most ridiculous one ever?
      https://copenhagenvikingbiking.tumblr.com/

  3. Thanks it is a great example of new approaches to road design now evident in several European countries. t’Goylaan is 40 metres wide so that could not be achieved in many places in Auckland where streets are narrow. Still the principle of deliberately modifying travel behavior via street design is relevant. I have seen good recent examples in France and Germany too. They are even producing design guidelines translated into English, such as these French ones:
    http://www.certu-catalogue.fr/the-cross-section-a-sharing-tool-for-urban-roads.html
    (You have to log in to download but they are free.)

    At this point I think we really need to bin the Austroads Road Design Guidelines for urban streets. They are quire inappropriate, having descended from design guides for rural highways.

    1. Agree. AustRoads are almost completely inappropriate for urban streets. Most urban streets in the Netherlands would violate austroads standards, and yet are wonderful streets for all modes. And adjacent land uses = real economy.

      I think it’s worth emphasising this point: these street designs are not only good for pt and active modes, but also people in cars. That is, its very nice driving cars on these boulevards, as the lane and intersection configurations are very simple and intuitive. Crossings are well marked and managed so you’re not often worried about other road users straying into your path.

      Go the Netherlands: it’s the best.

  4. As a primary school child I rode the bike and nearly got hit by a car on the road. To this day I am afraid of cycling unless I’m at a big park.

    If all our roads were cycle-safe then I would definitely want to cycle around town

    1. Yes, I hope it will improve quickly enough for you to start enjoying cycling as transport. Hopefully for local trips that will be in the next few years.

    2. Exactly. So when the Dutch said the same thing after their road traffic deaths shot up, the govt responded by making cycling safer.

      In NZ we basically just tried to turn every road into a motorway and decided our children didn’t need freedom or independence.

      When I was 10, I did get ht by a car. 32 years later I still cycle almost every day nd have never been hit since.

  5. Lets hope our roads in New Zealand never look like this rubbish.

    This is economically inefficient by creating time to go from place A to place B that wouldn’t exist in a multi-modal transport system. It’s socially inefficient by jamming people into chicken coup’s which give no room, little privacy and a socially undesirable lifestyle.

    Can we please grow up and stop providing examples of sub 500k population cities on flat landscapes and pretending we could build Auckland in the same manner? It would be comical if it wasn’t so despicably untrue.

    1. I love how these roads look! See the dappled shade from those glorious trees? See the people getting exercise which will be improving their physical health and relationships and zest for life? See how they can ride two abreast so they can have conversations just like people in cars do? See how they don’t have to ride in and out of the gaps left by parked cars? See how people at cafe tables aren’t having fumes poured onto them? See how the “pedestrian refuges” are wide enough that you don’t have to worry that your pram is going to be hit by a car?

      Just wonderful. We can do the same here. The cheapest way to start would be to adopt the “ring road” philosophy, adapting it to Auckland by cutting duplicate arterial roads to the private car, but letting buses and active modes through. Make sure each area only has one arterial road to access it. Also, reduce the speed limit to 25 km/hr everwhere that is not an arterial road or a motorway, and enforce it. Then we can start making the physical changes.

      It’s so exciting Matthew, See you on the bike paths sometime!

      1. Heidi, your reply shows your lack of understanding on this topic.

        Good for relationships huh? 52% of residents in Ultrecht are single. So much for cycling bringing people together. Evidence would seem to show it’s driving them apart. Perhaps we shouldn’t take this as being surprising. When you smell bad from cycling you aren’t likely to attract a mate are you?

        But you’ve taken the cake with your suggestion that Auckland should adopt a ring road. Yeah lets close down the motorway so nobody from the outer suburbs can access downtown and lets build a road through the middle of the Waitakere’s, over the Manukau harbour and around the other side through the Waitemata harbour as well.

        Your suggestion might be the dumbest suggestion I’ve ever read on this blog and that’s saying something.

        1. Those ring road building ideas really would be dumb. Luckily I wasn’t meaning any road building at all, just an adaptation of the idea.

          I’m so surprised you gave my enthusiasm the time of day. I’ll have to try that positive approach again.

          But what’s with your obsession with smells ?

    2. The top post is about an example of managing traffic in a congested city, not about what the best overall urban form or density is. No-one is suggesting that Auckland can or should look like Utrecht.
      Of course the problems and solutions will be different in Auckland from Utrecht. The main point of the post is simply, ‘If we want to, we can plan the city and its transport system in a way that doesn’t allow traffic to wreck all public spaces all the time, everywhere.’ The latter being the default policy for the last 70 years simply for want of any active decision to do otherwise.
      It’s a matter of changing the default engineering-focused view that cars always have priority unless there’s some special reason to do otherwise. What that means in detail, and where, is a matter for further debate having regard to the circumstances of Auckland. But nothing will change unless you can change the mindset first.

  6. To be honest, I live here, and I love cycling and everything, but the whole City Boulevard thing is a total disaster. Too dangerous, especially for biking. I, and with me a lot of people, tend to avoid the road all together, because it is just a nightmare. Especially the ‘Priority Square’ doesn’t function and is a hazard people are avoiding as much as they can.
    Other roads (cheaper, no fancy ‘city Boulards’) are just simply safer and better. This story is overly positive. This is what the road actually looks like:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YQfJiX3m74

    btw. the street is outside of the city center.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and adding some facts to the debate.

      Sadly in New Zealand we have a small number of people who misappropriate overseas experiences to suit their own ideology. Your post and the video busts the myths perpetuated by the author.

      1. Piet is lamenting that the one street designed for cars is no good for bikes. I have no idea how you think that this supports your crazy statements.

        If the fact people drive a car in the Netherlands is news to you then you should try and read more. In fact, the Netherlands was recently voted the best place in the world to drive.

        Plus you see all those cyclists not stuck in the traffic? That is an efficient alternative.

    2. It doesn’t look that amazing to me either. Great cycling infustructure compared to anything we have, I like the trees, otherwise way too wide making it look so sprawl like. Give me a narrow road with buildings both sides any day.

    1. No, you weren’t there on a ‘good’ day, you were there on a ‘normal’ day. Piet paints a picture that is very, very far from the truth. He shows you pictures of a day with record breaking congestion caused by major crashes and a huge fire, closing several motorways around the city, followed by yet other crashes increasing the problems. It was so exceptional that it was all over the news. https://www.rtvutrecht.nl/nieuws/1683092/grote-kettingbotsing-op-a12-verkeersinfarct-rondom-utrecht.html Note especially the last sentence: “Around 7pm the A12 motorway was reopened, about an hour later all congestion problems had disappeared.”

      1. I don’t now when the video was taken, I did not film it. But to be fair, it was the same the day before yesterday, it was the same yesterday and It wil be the same today. It won’t be the same tomorrow, because then it is the weekend which means congestion problems only starts at 2.
        Fact remains that since the opening the number of accidents with cyclist have skyrocketed and the congestion problems have grown. They are going to stop one bus line service because the delays are to large. It is absolutely ridicules.
        Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for creating room for bicycles and less cars, I ride more than 200 km a week on my bike and would not want to give it up for the world. But I do think you need to create and design roads in a way that actually works. This design is purely based on making life miserable for cars, which then creates hazards for the cyclist. If you look at how ambulances have to pass over the cycling path, the fact nobody died is nothing less than a miracle.
        But instead of saying this road is shit, let me tell what they should have done, to create room for cyclist and make it pretty with trees and stuff;
        First split the traffic passing by from Goylaan to Europalaan from designated traffic towards Hoograven Tolsteeg etc. So no exits on t Goylaan. Use the already existing service road for traffic wanting to go into the housing area. You can easily lower speeds on the service road. This way the cycling path only needs to be passed twice and not 9 times, making it actually save to ride on.
        Second, put the trees not in between two roads, where nobody can access them, but put them next to where people walk and cycle. That way you could put pick-nick tables there and have a pick-nick or just sit in the nice parts of green. Now the added greenery serve no purpose, which is stupid.
        Thirdly, don’t make a bus-lane that crosses the road over and over again and needs additional lights to do so. Make a continuing bus-lane, so your buses can actually pass the traffic and not create unnecessary additional congestion problems.

  7. Thanks for this information, Piet and Bicycle Dutch. In the latest Paperboy magazine there is a ‘Lessons from the Dutch’ article which is worth reading. One important point :

    ‘Give one completely dedicated lane to cyclists. You don’t need to make every street have a cycle lane – it’s called the back street principle – it’s much nicer to cycle on a quiet street than on the main road anyway.’

    It’s painful watching Auckland make the mistake of not heeding this advice. One example is Pt Chev, where the bike lanes should be put on the back streets, with the main road improved for buses. Instead we are losing our pohutukawa trees on Pt Chev Rd, and are gaining a barren, ugly street.

    This will be repeated across Auckland unless we can realise that we don’t have the road width. We need to put bike lanes on different roads to bus lanes.

  8. One thing I’d like to see in Auckland is to get rid of most of the flush medians and replace with raised medians and trees. Would improve the look of the city massively and safer to cross road. Any downsides?

      1. It does mean there is a mentality that the drivers shouldn’t ever have to stop and wait for cars turning right, though. Drivers similarly move into cycle lanes when it suits. I think there’s a better design. Because of the space the flush medians take up, it takes from other possibilities.

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