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Maximum waiting time at traffic lights to be 30 seconds

Dirk Kloosterboer

28 December 2005 – The municipality wants to promote the use of bicycles and has promised to reduce the average waiting time at traffic lights to thirty seconds at most. This does imply that choices must be made.

The Amsterdam municipality wants to make the city more bicycle friendly. The reasons are obvious: cycling is cheap, good for the environment and healthy. Bicycles further take up less space than cars and they do not pose much of a threat to other road users. Also, in the inner city, bicycles are faster than cars on most routes.

The municipality has drawn up a multiyear plan to make the city more accessible to bicycles. The execution of this plan will cost one hundred million euro, half of which is to be paid by the districts.

Among other things, the municipality wants to reduce cyclists’ waiting time at traffic lights. The objective is to reduce the average waiting time to thirty seconds at most. This will also likely help bring down the number of cyclists that jump the lights.

Two years ago the Fietsberaad, an advisory body to the government, commissioned a study on bicycle friendliness of traffic lights in six provincial capitals. The study found that cyclists often have to wait longer than necessary.

To some extend, this can be amended by better maintenance. Traffic flows change, and traffic lights have to be tuned accordingly to avoid unnecessarily long waiting periods. This means that time and money have to be allocated for maintenance.

In addition, choices have to be made. The most important cause of long waiting periods for cyclists is that priority is given to public transport and to cars, either or not as a consequence of phased traffic lights. According to the Fietsberaad study, “It is to be doubted if such choices are always made consciously and if they are well-founded, systematic and up to date”.

Choices on which groups of road users are given priority should affect the design of traffic lights. For example, a separate light for cars that turn right may make sense for motorists, but for cyclists it only means that they have to wait longer.

There is also a clash of interests regarding how long a traffic light should be green. When the lights are green for a shorter period, they can also be red for a shorter period, which means a shorter waiting period. Cyclists are therefore better off when the lights change relatively fast. This does not apply to motorists, who are better off when the lights are green for a longer time. They need more time because they can only cross one at a time.

Critics say that Amsterdam makes an effort to promote bicycle use, but that priority is still given to cars. “If you look at the past twenty years, quite a lot has been done. But in comparison with cars, low priority is given to bicycles. I do not want to slate the Amsterdam policy, but they do prioritise the car”, said a representative of the Fietsersbond, an organisation of cyclists.

This is acknowledged as much in the municipality’s multiyear plan: “When choices are made, the circulation of cars and public transport often prevails over the circulation of bicycles”. This must change: “Amsterdam is proud to be a bicycle city and it does not want to loose it’s position as a trendsetter”.

At present, Amsterdam residents use the bicycle for 37% of their trips, which is a high percentage in comparison with most other cities. It is also seven percentage points higher than twenty years ago. However, bicycle use is likely to decrease, since young people are much less likely to take a bicycle than they were ten years ago. The municipality has set itself the objective to keep bicycle use steady.

For sources see the Dutch version of this article

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