Dutch intersections are similar to those in the United States, except for the addition of cycle tracks at their intersections. A cycle track is a path that bicycles can travel on that runs with, but is separated from, the travel lane of automobiles. This differs from American bike lanes which are not physically separated from automobile traffic, but are just located on the sides of the road. Another difference between the two is the pavement markings each receive across an intersection. In the Netherlands, when a cycle track reaches an intersection, the markings that indicate the cycle track continue through the intersection to the cycle track on the far side of the intersection (refer to figure above). In the United States, when a bike lane reaches an intersection, typically the bike lane ends at the stop line and begins again at the far side of the intersection (refer to figure below).
In the United States, there are no intersections in which cycle tracks cross through cycle tracks. For instance, on Vassar Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, there is a cycle track running on both sides of the street. When this street intersects with Massachusetts Avenue (which has bike lanes on each side of the street), the cycle tracks on Vassar Street transition to bike lanes in the street. These bike lanes end at the stop line and begin on the far side of the intersection. Meanwhile, the bike lanes on Massachusetts Avenue continue on through the intersection, showing that these bike lanes do not cross.
According to Table 24 from the CROW Design Manual, there are several options for intersection designs when cycle tracks intersect each other, including
implementing a roundabout. Here we will focus on regular signalized four-way intersections that include cycle tracks on each side of the
intersecting roads. Table 24 is shown below.
The Dutch intersection design implements various tools to make the intersection safer and more accessible for bicyclists. By doing this, they have solved many conflict issues that could arise.
Dutch designers have implemented several features in their intersections that have greatly increased the safety for motor vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians when crossing.
Between the street and the cycle tracks, corner islands can always be found at intersections in the Netherlands. These raised islands add a physical barrier
between where automobiles will be traveling and where bicycles will be riding in
the cycle tracks. This separation from the road creates a more comfortable ride for bicyclists.
Corner islands can be large or small, rounded or angular, or any combination of these. The size of the island is determined based on the offset of the cycle track from the curb. If a cycle track is offset close to the curb, the corner island will typically be small. Similarly, if the cycle track offset is far from the curb or the cycle track tapers away from the street while approaching the intersection, the corner island will be larger. We observed many corner islands while in the field. The smallest corner island we found was 3 feet wide at its narrowest point. While this is a small size, it was effective at directing automobiles around it and providing a good platform for bicyclists. At times, the smaller corner islands do not provide a platform for all the bicyclists that need to cross. In these cases, bicycles will keep the intersecting cycle track free for passing traffic and wait at the near side of the cycle track intersection.
Another way that corner islands help to ensure safety at a crossing is that they help to make slight curves in the cycle track leading up to the stop line and signal. Many Dutch bicyclists travel at a calm pace while riding their bicycles, but this does not account for everyone. Cycle tracks also have faster bicycle riders and mopeds that can go much faster than the average bicyclist. If the path they travel on is straight the entire time, they will not need to slow down at anytime and are more of a threat to collide with another bicyclist or moped crossing their path. What the corner islands can help do is slow these riders down. The rounded shape seen in most corner islands will also add a curve to the cycle track. This limits the speed at which bicycles and mopeds can travel going through these intersections, which decreases the chances of colliding with a turning automobile. Although, some cycle tracks are located far enough from the street so that they do not need to be bent away before reaching the intersection. In these instances, the cycle track can continue straight through the intersection without needing to be shifted or curved.
The pedestrian platform is a section of curbing adjacent to the corner island on the other side of the cycle track. This platform is a place for pedestrians to queue up when crossing and gives them a safe place to wait that is not in the cycle track (as seen below). This pedestrian platform's shape depends on the corner island. If the corner island is small, there will not be a wide pedestrian platform. The curve of the turn itself can dictate also if there is room to have a tapered pedestrian platform.
In order to queue up at the pedestrian platform, pedestrians must walk across the cycle track from the sidewalk to the platform. By doing this, the crossing they must make in automobile traffic is now shorter and therefore safer.
One reason why automobiles and bicycles are able to operate together without
much problem is their separation at intersections. Bicycles move slower and also
accelerate at a much slower rate from a stopped position compared to automobiles.
For this reason, many Dutch intersections push the stop line for automobiles behind
cycle track crossings so that when the light changes to green, by the time an automobile has made it to the intersection, bicyclists have already passed through and are traveling at their desired speed.
While looking at stop line locations in the field, we measured distances from bicycle stop line to automobile stop line up to 47 feet. This can be contrasted with intersections seen in the United States that serve automobiles and bicycles. Bike lanes running along the street will have the same stop line that automobiles do. Bicycles take a longer time to get going from a stopped position compared to automobiles, which puts bicyclists at a disadvantage at intersections if automobiles and bicycles begin from the same point.
Another problem that this helps to avoid is the Right Hook conflict, which will be discussed later.
Along most streets, there are separate facilities for automobiles, bicyclists, and pedestrians. In many cases, the height of each facility is different from the other two. For example, a cycle track may be raised up from street level to provide even more protection from automobiles while sidewalks for pedestrians may be raised up from the cycle track to provide more protection from passing bicycles and mopeds.
This poses a problem when this street reaches an intersection. If the ground elevations for each facility remain unchanged through the intersection, automobiles will have difficulty passing through constant elevation changes.
This problem is solved by transitioning the roadway components to the elevation of one level: road level, cycle track level, or sidewalk level. If the intersection needs traffic calming measures to help slow down the motor vehicles, the road level could be raised to cycle track level to add a type of speed hump for cars to go over. This is called a raised intersection. These are typically seen at unsignalized intersections. Although, if the road is designed for faster traffic, the cycle track level will be lowered so
automobiles do not need to slow down while going through the intersection. This is seen at signalized intersections.
In many cases, the road level and cycle track level, or the cycle track level and sidewalk level are at the same height. In these cases, the street does not need to be altered when approaching the intersection and elevation does not pose a problem to the intersection design.
Dutch pavement markings and traffic signals differ slightly from their American counterparts. These differences though help to provide more direction to automobiles and bicyclists when going through an intersection.
Generally, the elephant feet pavement marking is an enlarged version of an
American dashed line that tells vehicles that you can cross or switch lanes at those
markings. The difference is that the elephant feet show two directions of traffic that
there is a crossing approaching. In one direction, automobiles are able to see that
there is a bike crossing approaching, which will alert them to slow down and watch
for bicycles. In the other direction, bicyclists are able to see that there is a crossing
coming up and they should be weary for automobiles approaching from their left or
Sharks teeth on the road tell the approaching bicyclist or automobile that they must yield to the intersecting traffic. These markings can be seen all over the Netherlands bordering cycle tracks going through intersections, on cycle tracks intersecting other cycle tracks, and many more locations. Shown below are several examples of uses for shark’s teeth.
In the Netherlands, cycle tracks are marked red. There are different ways to do this: paving the road with red asphalt, painting the road red, or using red brick. The idea behind making the cycle tracks red is so that they are easily distinguishable from the street automobiles drive on or sidewalk pedestrians walk on. When traveling through an intersection, the cycle track will still be red so that automobiles can tell that there will be bikes passing across the street. This visual cue helps to make operators of automobiles more aware of their surroundings and what modes of transportation are traveling around them.
This practice is also used in other countries around the world. In Denmark, the
cycle tracks are colored blue. In the United States, new cycle tracks are going to be
colored green to promote the idea that riding a bicycle is more sustainable and is
Detailed information about Bicycle Traffic Signals can be found here.
At signalized intersections where there are pedestrian crossings,
pedestrian traffic signals will typically be seen. Like all traffic
signals in the Netherlands, the traffic signal is at the right most side
of the crossing. They are also located on the far side of the crossing
to provide better visibility for pedestrians. This location can pose a
problem for some pedestrians. While the signal provides good
visibility, pedestrians could focus on the signal when crossing and
be more oblivious to oncoming automobiles and bicycles.
Pedestrian crossings in the Netherlands do have a large advantage that crossings in the United States lack; they do not need to cross bike lanes at each end of the street, so therefore the crossing is shorter.
For more information about Dutch Intersection Design, click here. This video was created by Mark Wagenbuur, a cyclist from Den Bosch, Netherlands who has created many videos about bicycling in Holland.
Intersections are made up of many different pieces of moving traffic, from automobiles to bicycles to even pedestrians. All these moving parts create a possibility of conflict. According to the CROW Design Guide for Bicycle Traffic, “Collisions with motor vehicles are the cause of most serious traffic accidents involving bicyclists, with over half of these occurring at intersections in built up areas.” The two sources of conflict that an intersection design must address are conflicts of bicycles with automobiles and bicycles with pedestrians.
At a four-‐way intersection, a bicycle can make three possible moves; they can continue straight, turn right, or turn left. The easiest of these moves is to turn right while on the cycle track. As long as the cycle track remains off of the street, then there should be no conflict with automobiles. The real conflicts arise with continuing straight and making a left turn.
The biggest concern of all bicyclists at intersections is the possibility of being a
victim of the “right hook.” This is when a bicyclist going straight through an
intersection is side swiped by a motor vehicle turning right. This can occur when a
bike lane crosses through an intersection where very little to no visibility is
provided between the automobile and a bicyclist. The Dutch intersection design
with a cycle track goes a long way in minimizing this risk.
The biggest factor in lessening the likelihood of a "right hook" is the distance between the stop bar of the automobile and the bicyclist. During a fresh green (green light appears for both stopped automobiles and bicycles), this distance gives a bicyclist enough time to move through the intersection before a right turning car could come in contact with it. During a stale green (green light is present for approaching automobiles and bicycles), the distance allows for both the bicyclist and the automobile to be able to see each other when looking straight ahead in the conflict zone, as seen in the picture below. The distance between the stop lines greatly increase the visibility present at the intersection.
Corner islands also provide a physical barrier
automobiles must travel around when making a right turn, which allows bicyclists to be removed
from automobiles at intersections. Additionally, corner islands
push the bicyclists out farther from the curb, which increases the visibility between the automobile and the bicyclist. The corner islands also produce a bend away S-curve motion that slows down faster cyclists and mopeds to avoid surprising turning automobiles.
This “right hook” issue can also be lessened with strong pavement markings for the cycle track through the intersection. The shark’s teeth and elephant’s feet markings go a long way to alerting automobiles of the possibility that a bicyclist will be crossing there. Staggered traffic signal phasing between the bicyclists and automobiles will also allow the bicyclists more time in crossing before a conflict can arise.
In the United States, in order to make a left turn you either need to make a vehicular left turn by merging into traffic or you need to cross at the crosswalks. Neither one is immensely desirable. Merging into the left lane in traffic can give rise to automobile and bicycle points of conflicts whereas crossing at the crosswalks does not give you a platform to queue for the left turn. The Dutch intersection solution to this is the two-phase left hand turn. For a bicyclist riding north, this requires the rider to first travel north across the intersection, and then rotate west and travel straight across the intersection in the westerly cycle track.
The straight through movement is safe because the “right hook” issue has been addressed. To make this left turn convenient for the bicyclist, the bicycle traffic signals are coordinated so that by the time the bicyclist crosses the street, the signal shows green in the turning direction to allow for a continuous flow. This speeds up the left turn without putting the bicyclist in danger by forcing them to leave the cycle track.
Just as automobiles can conflict with bicycles, so can pedestrians, and vice versa. To help solve this conflict, the
Dutch intersection design places a pedestrian crossing to the right of the cycle track.
This crossing is clearly marked for pedestrians and gives them their own space to
cross the street in which begins with their own pedestrian platform. While this location makes pedestrians walk out of their way to cross the street, it lessens the distance pedestrians have to spend crossing an intersection in traffic. By pulling bike paths off the street and making them cycle tracks, the amount of time pedestrians need to cross this shorter distance shrinks.
The biggest conflict between bicycles and pedestrians at intersections, even in a Dutch intersection, is the pedestrian platform and bike queuing area conflicts. When corner islands are small and cycle tracks are offset close to the street, the platform for pedestrians must be small too. Large groups of people waiting for a walk signal could potentially not fit in this platform and inherently spill over into the cycle track.
A similar problem was seen with left-turning bicyclists that ran out of queue space. One way this problem for pedestrians can be alleviated is by having pedestrians that cannot fit in the pedestrian platform wait on the other side of the cycle track until the signal is green and then cross the cycle track when it is safe. Another solution we have seen is to turn part of the cycle track into a platform for pedestrians. For example in the city of Delft, the pedestrian crossing was deemed so important that the cycle track was cut into in order to paint a pedestrian platform to make it safer for pedestrians crossing to the tram tracks on the other side of the street (seen below).
Overall space is the biggest key to
preventing bicycle and pedestrian
conflicts. Both bicycles and pedestrians
need their own designated space in
which to occupy and thus rarely conflict
with the other.