Cyclists in the UK often cast envious eyes at the provision made for cycling in countries such as the Netherlands. The idea of cycling is considered completely mainstream in the Netherlands (only 13% of people there say they never travel by bike, compared to 69% in the UK), and there is plenty of physical infrastructure and segregation from motor traffic to assist safe and easy cycling. In the UK, we all too often wobble along the edges of roads, mere centimetres from passing cars and lorries, sometimes on ridiculous cycle “infrastructure” such as London Mayor Boris Johnson’s Cycle Superhighways (strips of ordinary roadway painted blue). Meanwhile, Transport for London has only recently agreed to stop issuing “Cyclists Stay Back” stickers to vehicle fleet operators in London, stickers which suggested it was somehow the job solely of cyclists to avoid ending up underneath motor vehicles, rather than the job of all road users to avoid bumping into each other.
Anyway, this week’s transport beauty is an example of the sort of high quality cycling infrastructure which not only further encourages cycling in the Netherlands, but also provides a local landmark, and is an aesthetic enhancement to the local environment.
It’s called the Hovenring, and it demonstrates the sort of state commitment to cycle infrastructure that is likely to make a British cyclist very jealous indeed.
When a cycle route has to cross a major physical barrier like a river, there is an obvious opportunity to design a bridge which can also be a local landmark. Even the UK can rise to this sort of occasion, as with the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, which we looked at a few weeks ago. What is especially impressive about the Hovenring is that it is a beautiful version of a normally mundane structure, a roundabout. It sits right in the middle of the local road network rather than spanning a valley or a river.
With the development of the Meerhoven area for housing, Eindhoven City Council decided it was time to sort out a nearby flat roundabout at which cyclists had to cross the busy approach roads on the level. Roundabouts are always difficult locations to share between cars and cyclists as there are many conflicting movements, and possibilities for distraction or confusion which could lead to accidents. The solution was to vertically separate the cycle routes from the road routes, but because of concerns over personal security, the City Council was keen not to bury the cycle routes in tunnels below the roadway. That meant the only place for the cycleway to go was upwards.
Grade separated roundabouts are nothing new. That’s what most motorway junctions are, after all. What was notable about the Hovenring was the work that went into its appearance, as well as its functionality.
Creative design and engineering company ipv Delft (English language version here) were employed to create a suitable solution which both looked good and worked well. They envisaged a floating roundabout, suspended from a central pylon. People still mourning the loss of London’s 1950s Skylon will be pleased to see it informing the design of one of its indirect descendants.
The Hovenring opened in 2012. It is 72m in diamater, and the central pylon is 70m tall. Considerable attention was given to the way in which the Hovenring’s suspension cables, from which the circular deck is hung, are attached to the central pylon. A conventional connection would have required an ugly lump of metal near the top of the pylon, so a more complicated but much better-looking set of connections was designed. Another part of the solution can be found in the four M-shaped supports underneath the circular deck, which share the load with the suspension cables. The central V of each M (if you follow me) is a pair of pressure bars, and rather neatly those bars replicate the shape of the central pylon. Meanwhile, the roadway underneath was sunk slightly, so that the ramps on and off the cycle roundabout were not too steep for comfortable cycling.
The end result is a visually arresting structure, extremely elegant and at first glance almost too delicate too hold itself in place (it’s not, of course, it’s just very cleverly designed). Everything about it screams attention to detail. The post and cable barriers at the edge of the roundabout are functional but demonstrate a light touch, and reference the cables which are holding the deck aloft. To use it as a cyclist is to be made to feel important and special, as though someone has actually cared about the quality of your journey on an aesthetic as well as merely practical level. It’s a mindset that goes a very long way to explaining the Netherlands’ high proportion of cycling trips.
ipv Delft’s other great specialism is in lighting design, and this is very evident at the Hovenring during the night. It is exquisitely well lit. At night, with the cables less easy to see, but the rest of the structure picked out by carefully installed lights, the cycle roundabout appears even more to defy gravity than it does during the day. It looks like a retro 1950s rocket ship hovering above the road, or a giant scientific toy.
The Hovenring is one of a select few pieces of sustainable transport infrastructure that have sufficient all-round design quality (if you’ll pardon the pun) to stand a chance of causing passing car drivers to wish that they were up there, enjoying the view and the experience, than in their cars. That’s pretty magical.
how to find the Hovenring
Follow this link (but note that Google Maps’ imagery is not recent enough to show the actual structure yet)
A blog all about the Hovenring, here