Gamechanging survey results lead the way for new cycling infrastructure around Bruges station
When the City of Bruges joined the Handshake project, it outlined an ambition to transform the surroundings around its train station – an area of the city that is pivotal in the cycling infrastructure network. Despite it being the most heavily trafficked area in the city for cyclists, it is recognized as an unsafe link in the cycling network, with nearby bicycle crossings ranked among the city’s “grey spots”. In the Handshake project proposal, a description of a solution to combating this issue was described:
The city of Bruges wishes to lobby for a new cycling bridge so motorized and cycling traffic don’t need to cross physically (at grade). The city wants to support the Flemish government by using the expertise of Handshake partners on, for example, how to connect such infrastructure to the cycling network and how to negotiate with UNESCO in the development of the bridge (which would be situated in a “buffer” area).
Nowadays, this dream is well on its way to becoming reality, but the idea of a cycling bridge has been substituted for three passages that cross beneath the city’s main ring road, the R30. The decision to shift away from the original plan of a bicycle bridge is outlined in a recent article, which describes the results of an exploratory survey done by Bruges’ Department of Mobility. A closer look at the results of this survey are described below.
The focus of the survey was, of course, on cyclists. The area around the station includes four intersections, which confirms the importance of the site both as a link to the train station and as a node in the cycling network. When combined with guidelines on safe and comfortable cycling infrastructure, the argument was made that the current infrastructure is falling short.
Nowadays, a three meter wide cycling track must accommodate up to 1000 cyclists during peak travel times, riding in both directions. It is estimated that approximately 4,000 cyclists use the three crossings around the train station daily, which is one third of the total daily cyclists visiting the train station area. The significant number of cyclists and insufficient infrastructure explain, at least in part, the high number of accidents at crossings (conflicts with motorized traffic) and at segments (conflicts in between cyclists and also single user accidents).
The survey also took a close look at the habits and needs of pedestrians which proved to be quite surprising. Part of this surprise is attributable to an absolute lack on previous data on pedestrians, but mainly because of the staggering number of users at all times of the day. Linked to the train and bus station on one side, and the city centre on the other, the morning and evening rush hour (or even a rush twenty minutes in the morning) on weekdays are linked closely with the start and the end of school days.
The train station, which is also home to Bruges’ largest car parking lot and is a key link to the city centre, provided another source of pedestrians. At the end of a shopping day, up to a dazzling 2,500 pedestrians were reported crossing the ring road during peak hours. A limited sidewalk width of only four meters, together with ongoing red lights because of car traffic, has created a bottleneck of pedestrians. Unsurprisingly, this traffic jam of people has resulted in a high number of pedestrians (15-21%) ignoring red lights during peak rush hour.
With so many pedestrians actively using the site, one could assume that the train station square would be a vibrant spot. Alas, it is not. Using a people survey from Gehl, it was revealed that the square functions merely as a transfer space, between the train and bus station, the parking lot and the city centre. It was observed that pedestrians use it as minimally as possible, and only at the squares edges for a short period of time. At night, different locations around the station were also poorly appraised due to a lack of light, blind spots and a lack of place qualities.
Thanks to the survey (which also included an extensive accident analysis), those planning the renovation project around the train station gained not only a game-changing dataset, but also important insight into how the site is utilised. It became clear that the site has a multitude of pulses, as well as different user groups during the day and during the week.
Even before beginning the redesign, it became apparent that the then existant ideas on optimizing the R30 ring road would be insufficient in their impact. Initial ideas included relocating part of the R30 ring road near the station underground, as well as building a cyclist and pedestrian bridge. The former idea was abandoned because it would unable to accommodate the number of cars, whereas the latter idea would have potentially impacted the iconic Bruges skyline (defined as having outstanding universal value by UNESCO).
The solution arrived during a lunch break walk along the Vesten, which are the old ramparts (not stone walls, but green slopes and waterways nowadays turned into a green park) that surround the city centre. The topography of the area around the ramparts revealed a landing space for a possible pedestrian tunnel. In this case, an entirely new solution that complements a historical feature of the city was discovered.
In Bruges’ case, the adage “Measuring is knowledge, and knowledge is power” proved once again to be true. The survey has given Tractebel (who won the design tender) a flying start, and has paved the way for transdisciplinary research that focuses on understanding rather than simply explaining. The tender included a requirement to perform a Heritage Impact Assessment according to ICOMOS/UNESCO-guidelines, making it the first of its kind in Belgium!
Image (Stad Brugge)