Using art to relieve bicycle congestion

The Dutch city of Utrecht is no stranger to a phenomenon called “bicycle congestion”—a situation where infrastructural facilities for cyclists are used so much that their efficiency starts to suffer and negatively affects the cyclist’s biking experience (much like how congestion on roads affects motorists). Whether the congestion hits suggested bike lanes, seperated bike paths, or bicycle parking facilities, it’s detrimental to the competitiveness of cycling as a mode of transportation. And whilst the phenomenon in The Netherlands is most pronounced in Amsterdam, it’s worth taking a look at how the nearby college town of Utrecht deals with congestion on its bicycle routes, because of its inventive approach to the phenomenon.

One heavily used bicycle route in Utrecht runs due east from the Central Station, passing a street called Vredenburg and leading through the inner city before eventually reaching the Utrecht University campus at the eastern edge of the city. As the most direct route between the city’s central train station and the university, it draws a lot of bicycle traffic.

The number of bikes along the route typically peaks during the morning rush hour. Throw a few scooters and mopeds (who strangely are allowed to cruise on bike lanes in The Netherlands) in the mix, and you have a less-than-attractive route for cyclists, especially if they aren’t the type of able-bodied twenty-somethings who slightly dominate this city’s bike lanes.

The situation has prompted local municipal authorities to start a campaign to draw attention to alternative bicycle routes, of which there are plenty. Starting with the busy route leading eastwards of the inner city, an experiment is now underway. By painting red dots on (pre-existing) bike routes  and using red wayfinding signs, the city hopes to put alternative routes in the spotlight.

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The red dots and accompanying signage at an intersection in Utrecht, The Netherlands. Source: De Utrechtse Internet Courant

The city will also place two informational signs at each end of the pilot route. The pilot runs until September, when it will be evaluated by the City. To that end, traffic counts will be conducted along the route. A user survey will also be conducted.

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Using red stamps, the City of Utrecht hopes to draw attention to alternative bike routes. Source: De Utrechtse Internet Courant

The pilot was inspired by a plan by students from the Utrecht School of the Arts. Not everyone is excited about them, as some have already questioned whether this artwork will ever “function”. (Some locals have also expressed their hopes that the city will use eco-friendly paint.)

As long as we can all agree that if this is art, it probably can’t do much harm to the city either, these things might stand a chance to become a more permanent feature in Utrecht’s streetscape. It would surely be a welcome addition to the standard signage in place today, which is easily overlooked and falls short of its task to guide cyclists through the city.

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The trajectory of the alternative route (in red) and the main route (dark blue), which currently is heavily congested. Source: Google Maps (map edited by R. Woudstra)

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  1. Follow the Red Dots: Alternate Bicycle Routes | A Flamingo in Utrecht - October 16, 2013

    […] In an attempt to find alternative routes and solutions for the heavier rush-hour traffic, a pilot program began in April to draw attention to less-travelled routes that still get you to the same place. No new paths were created, they simply made more of an effort to highlight existing routes. The way they did so was by painting red circles on the street, as seen in the photo above. The red circles guide cyclists by veering off into a different direction (over the Herenbrug and into the Museumkwartier, in this case), rather than taking you straight up to the main cross street. (You can see the new route in the last image in this post.) […]

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