Wednesday 26 August 2015

Deventer Dash

So this week, I found myself in the city of Deventer which is to the east of the Netherlands. It was a last-minute trip which involved lots of travelling, but it still gave me a little time to experience a pretty ordinary place by local standards, but I like to celebrate the ordinary.

I took a total of 7 NS trains in 2 days, including lots of time on these
heavyweight intercity trains. I became quite fond of them!
This post comes with a health warning; my visit was short and the things I saw were only snapshots; so I cannot possibly detail their intricacies or whether they are good examples or not. Please take this on board and note that I call it as I saw it. Also, please correct me using the comments, I am sure there are things I have got wrong.

My 560 mile (900km) round trip took advantage of the "rail-sail" ticket which gives train travel from anywhere within the Greater Anglia area to any NS (national) train station in the Netherlands via the Stena Line's very civilised Harwich to Hook of Holland ferry. I imagine the rail deal is available because Greater Anglia is run by Abellio which is owned by Dutch National Railways! If you can book a while in advance, it is pretty good value too. But, this is not *that* kind of travel blog!

Part of what is a bit like a ring road to the southwest of the core, but
probably just a main local road. Traffic lanes about 3m, cycle tracks
about 2.4m, with footways about the same. Stepped cycle track and
kerbs on footway side about 25mm upstand.
Deventer is municipality as well as a city and covers an area roughly comparable to the London Borough of Bromley. I only spent time in the city core which is about 1km by 1km. It is bounded by the River IJssl and some other bodies of water, with a kind of ring road, but not one with multi-traffic lanes everywhere, perhaps akin to a UK strategic road in Outer-London (i.e. not a trunk road).

A general observation was the main roads outside of the core had cycle tracks by or away from the roads and through signalised junctions. The protection fizzled out as one went into the core, turning into advisory lanes and then no provision at all. I didn't see it, but there is also a notoriously dangerous roundabout in the city too (thanks David Hembrow) - Dutch is not always good being the lesson here.

It did seem rather old from a cycling point of view, but still leaps and bounds beyond most of what one can experience in the UK. I don't know what the long terms plans are here, but the cycle tracks are mainly concrete tiles which are fairly old hat compared to the smooth red tarmac I saw from the train as I whizzed across the country! Mark Wagenbuur provided a link to comments made by the local branch of the Dutch Cyclist's Union on the approach the municipality takes, which basically complains that cycling improvements only ever come on the back of improvements for cars! Huh, we rarely get even that here! I also don't know what the cycling and walking mode share is in Deventer, although my impression was at the lower end of the Dutch scale (although clearly far higher than the UK).

The historic part of the core contains lots of old buildings and has a pedestrianised feel. Indeed, some parts operate formally as pedestrian zones (with cycle access I think) and there is access for vehicles as well to other parts which generally seemed to be for residents and loading. Some of the residents' parking bays where signed with specific number plates!

Sometimes, the amount of traffic in the core felt a little busy, but through traffic was filtered out and from what I experienced, drivers were moving quite slowing within the 30km/h (20mph) core speed limit. 

I did see conflicts in the core. A couple of times, drivers emerged from side roads and cyclists had to avoid them, although everything was nice and slow. By coincidence, schools had gone back this week and so I saw a glimpse of the school run. Actually, I saw two ends of the spectrum. In the photo to the right, the driver of the blue car was actually parked and reading a book. My assumption was that she was waiting for the schools to kick out. 

The problem was that to the left of the shot, a delivery driver was trying to get his lorry out and the the photo shows another two cars trying to turn right into the street. The driver of the blue car pulled forward and blocked the junction on the main road, annoyed pedestrians, let the lorry out and then reversed back and carried on reading her book. Laziness and idiocy is clearly universal!

The photo to the left shows what we really want to see of course and that is parents queued up with a better type of vehicle. What a lovely kind of congestion to have!

Now, I was very interested in the cycling, but sadly my time was too short to have a go myself and besides, we should be measuring the civility of a place from a pedestrian's point of view. To a UK wanderer, the core of Deventer was mostly lovely to walk around, although the brick paviors were a bit irritating to pull a case on. I guess the treatment does have uses in terms of texture and visuals to keep the speeds of drivers accessing the area down to a low speed.

The paviours are laid as 45 degree herringbone on a nominal carriageway area which appears to be restrained from spreading by a steel rail (how it is all embedded, I couldn't see) and the margins were laid as a stretcher at 90 degrees to the line of travel. The 45 degree herringbone pattern ensures maximum strength from the paving which behaves as a flexible surface and it was a really a gentle backdrop to the buildings. 

Much of the core is historic and to deal with old steps up into the shops, machined stone ramps have replaced sections of the stretcher paving to make the shops accessible to all. The paviours are just dry-laid on a sand base as is the norm, making it easy to dig them up and reinstate them. I really don't know why block paving hasn't taken off in the same way here, but the Dutch element size interlocks well and I think works well visually and structurally.

At many junctions (not all), there were continuous footways across side streets and in this example, a tactile surface was aimed to direct visually impaired people along a main route and it also continued across the side street. You can also see that the side street here only joined the main street and the no entry sign had an exemption for cycles and motor scooters. There were a few streets like this and my impression was that they were less desirable to cycle along as they were connecting the core to the ring road.

It was not all rosy for pedestrians. At some of the main junctions, there were no dropped kerbs at all, despite having green men which is pretty hostile; and in some places, the footways became very narrow and certainly space needed to be won back from the motorcar.

There were also places where "floating" areas for pedestrians waiting to cross the cycle tracks were far to small and cluttered. The photo to the right shows a pedestrian crossing (with green man) on the left and the cycle crossing on the right. Apart from the fact that cyclists are taking a short cut through the pedestrian crossing area, there are no pedestrian dropped kerbs and the the island area is pretty tiny. I think the UK often does this much better.

So, let's get back to the positives. The following photos are fairly random, but can hopefully give a feel for how things are set up;

Outside of the "ring road" in what I think is a business district, there
is a 3m wide bidirectional cycle track which runs from a busy junction
to a quiet area where the track peters out.
Here we have a wide footway which is continuous over a private access
with a ramp down to a continuous uni-directional cycle track and then a
ramp down to carriageway level (traffic coming towards us). The traffic
on the other side (going away) has split into lanes for the signals ahead.
Here is a short section of protected cycle track leading to a main
road which is a step up in provision from a basic advisory lane which

in turn is a step up from the shared and semi-pedestrianised area. 
Note the lorry parked as badly as we see in the UK!
The sign is the end of a pedestrian zone, but I assume it is not aimed
at drivers because of the modal filter (i.e. bollards!) I assume it is to
tell cyclists and motor scooter riders that they are back in an area
cars are allowed to be.
Apart form the old church, here is a nice example of street lighting on
the building which was everywhere. The box on the wall to the top left
is an external power point and you can just see the quarter circle
railing which seemed to be a way of managing a blind spot.
In the pedestrian area at lunchtime. It's busy, so people have got
off their bikes. C&A is a Dutch firm (for UK readers!)
A "gateway" treatment into the oldest part of the city complete with
a pedestrian zone sign. Please do correct me if I am wrong, but I
think cycles are allowed, but for motor scooters and other vehicles,
they are only allowed in at specific times.
So mainly banning traffic in the smallest streets makes the place
really nice to walk through and linger in, but the needs of shops

and residents to service are dealt with.
This street was quiet when I was there, but used to access the core
for deliveries and to some residential areas on the edge. I imagine

it might get a little busy at times.
Except cycles and motor scooters.
Except cycles and motor scooters.
A cheeky bus gate! Allows essential vehicles through, keeps those
without business in the area driving through (edge of the core again).
Buses were generally kept to the outside of the core, unlike many UK
town centres which are bus-soaked hell holes and rotten for walking
and cycling because of their presence.
Same street from other side of bus gate. Houses, flats and parking
with no specific cycling infrastructure because it's not needed.
People shouldn't have been cycling here, but they were (a short
-cut!) The black bins are over an underground chamber for household
waste and means there are no black bags or wheelie bins left on
the street and no need to store refuse indoors. It works like this.
Just another nice street!
A bit of semi-shared space, pedestrians tended to walk to the left
of the trees, but not exclusively. Also, motor scooter are quite popular.
Of course, there is an awful lot of places to securely park one's bike.
the only road hump I saw and it was a speed table. The advisory
cycle lane is far too narrow for this hefty cargobike!
This is a road which runs from the core to the main road by
Deventer Station. The chap on the bike only has a painted lane, but
he is about to get a green signal of his own. the little red signal to the
bottom right of the traffic signal assembly has a circle of LEDs
which were counting down to the cycle green.
And there he goes. In fact, there goes everyone, for the junction was
running a simultaneous green!

And so, now to the famous simultaneous green. I have missed some of the blue sign, but I think it is basically saying that cyclists are free to make a right turn (UK left). I don't know if this means all the time and so if anyone knows, please comment. The white sign translates (thanks Google) as "together green" which is nice. The one complication is that there were roadworks and so people on bikes were taken off the usual route with yellow markings through the junction to assist and into more protected infrastructure. I haven't quite worked out the method of control in my own mind, I need to get some sleep and reflect!

Together green.
Carriageway, paved verge with pedestrian waiting area for a "green man"
crossing. uni-directional red 
asphalt cycle track, forgiving kerb,
wide footway. It could have been better with a decent ramp for
pedestrians from the footway to track level, tactile paving to assist
visually impaired people and the signal post not in the waiting area.
The other thing to debate is that cyclists seem to have priority over
pedestrians which is the issue we are grappling with the in UK.
Yes, I do seem to take photos from this angle a lot! The locals must
have thought I was nuts. The forgiving kerb, shallower than the basic

45 degree UK splay kerb.
The perfect visual definition of #BeyondTheBicycle

Now, as a little treat (and because I managed to work the technology), I filmed the junction in action. Before I sign off for this week, I want to stress again that this post was based on my impression of what I saw and conditions would of course change during the day. I realise that Deventer is not leading the Netherlands for cycling (judging by what I saw from the train), but it gives a fair indication on how cities can be unravelled from the car and the kind of things which seemed to work just fine. I didn't have a guide and didn't cycle, but things looked pretty intuitive to a complete outsider. I don't know when, but I will be going back to the Netherlands!

Update 27/8/15
After an appeal on Twitter, we now know some modal share data for the Deventer municipality as a whole, although it is a bit old, being 2010. We have an overall share of 25%, rising to 38% when journeys under 7.5km (4.6 miles) are considered. Thanks to both Mark Wagenbuur and Richard Mann for the link to the data.


  1. 'Tegelijk' literally means 'at the same time' rather than 'together'. And, yes, that free right turn holds always. I wonder why it's still considered necessary to put up those signs - free right on red for bicycles has been in Dutch law since 1992.

    1. Thanks very much for the the correction! I am glad that it is not just the UK which leaves up unnecessary signs! I suppose the free right is an issue for pedestrians crossing on a green in side road to the right which is something we cannot do in the UK. We would need to have a "floating" crossing waiting area and have a free left turn behind the pedestrians. But, an option does exist here!

    2. I'd like to see a source on that cause I don't believe it. Going through a red light is never allowed, unless signposted.

    3. Well, Paris has just introduced it at certain junctions and I think it is getting quite common now.

    4. The blue signs still exist because they are the precondition for the free right on red. If the sign is absent, cyclists have to stop on red.

    5. Thanks for the comment, it clarifies then, that this is not universal and on a site by site basis. Which makes sense.

  2. Well if no-one else is going to answer your question about the pedestrian zone sign and whether or not cycling is allowed, I'll have a go. It may inspire someone who knows Dutch traffic signs better to correct me.

    The sign in your Walstraat photo says there are "venstertijden" - time windows - when bikes are permitted (but not mopeds), but doesn't specify those times within shopping hours, whereas it does for loading/unloading on the table underneath. Other cities often do specify the times for bikes with notices like that. Here's one:

    But the other end of Walstraat in Deventer does have a sign with times: 7-11 am

    Other streets have signs specifying "only outside shopping hours" for bikes, making for interesting street-by-street differences. All very detailed, but does it work like that in practice? The caption on short cut pic with underground garbage storage suggests not.

    Another common sign outside Deventer is 15 kph for bikes

    I wonder, if technically possible, that would go some way to reassuring pedestrians in the UK (yeah, I know) .

    Great blog post btw.

    Jitensha Oni

    1. Well, thanks for the additional information, it is much appreciated. It was a long trip with very little sightseeing, but I really wanted to maximise my knowledge from the experience and this helps very much.

  3. Deventer's a really nice city. The central streets were of course once a nightmare of car stuffed streets as elsewhere in the Netherlands, but now they're relatively tranquil as you saw them. It's a bit of a shame that you visited only the very central streets as those aren't where you find the most obvious examples of good cycling infrastructure in Deventer. I've brought forward my long overdue blog post about Deventer, which includes a video showing a very efficient route to the city centre.

    1. The route you entered was one junction I was watching in the morning rush hour and the sim green junction was the one I was watching in the afternoon!

      Sadly, I arrived at about 8pm on Monday, had about 30 mins Tuesday morning and 3 hours (including lunch) in the afternoon, so I had to concentrate in the core. If only I had an extra day, I would have hired a bike and had a day out. Still, I am definitely coming back as soon as I am able!

  4. Just a small clarification, tiles vs tarmac doesn't nessecarily indicate age. Especially in city centres the old brickwork is used in favour of tarmac (for easthetic reasons and convenience for work on buried electric/phone cables or sewers) and very often those reasons are enough to use tiles or bricks outside centres too. Places outside cities have a smaller chance of cables underneath the roads, hence more tarmac. :)

    1. Thanks for that insight; yes utilities often ruin new surfaces, so a tiled/ block system does mitigate the problem somewhat!