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Freeways in the Netherlands

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the Netherlands


The Netherlands is a small country on the North Sea. It has a population of 16.5 million on ~ 16,000 square miles, and thus has the same population density as the state of New Jersey. The Netherlands, however, does not have large cities, Amsterdam is the largest city with a population of 750,000. Western Netherlands is dotted with small to medium sized cities which together form the 8 million population metropolis of the "Randstad". It is a poly-centric urban area with a lot of rural areas in between, with no single city dominating.

The first freeway in the Netherlands opened in 1938, the A12 between Zoetermeer and The Hague. Within 4 years, a small freeway network was developed, mainly in western Netherlands. World War II prevented a nationwide freeway network at that time. The Netherlands was the first country in the world to feature shoulders on all freeways, except where it was deemed too expensive, such as in tunnels.

Just like the United States, the 1950's saw a surge in automobile usage, a trend which continued in the decades to come. By the 1960's, there was a comprehensive freeway network, which was expanded during the 1970's and early 1980's. The anti-freeway sentiment grew larger, and by the 1990's, people thought the solution to stop the growth of mobility was simple not to construct or widen freeways. The era between approximately 1990 and 2004 were very lean years in highway construction. However, mobility growth didn't stop, and traffic congestion got worse and worse, increasing by 10% every year. The 1990's also saw the first shoulder running going into operation, a system which have been expanded since.

Shoulder running was seen as a good solution to ease congestion during peak hours. However, population growth, demographic change and demographic shift still generated more and more traffic, making shoulder running a non-sustainable solution, as they had to open shoulders throughout the day. Rush hour times expanded, now beginning around 6 am to 10 am, and from 3 pm to 7 pm. The recession kicked in in late 2008, and what $ 10 per gallon gasoline didn't achieve, the economy did; reducing congestion. Congestion fell sharply during 2009 and is now back at the mid-2000's level.

Today, the Dutch freeway network is approximately 1,500 miles long, and is one of the densest networks in Europe. However, it has to be noted the Dutch non-freeway network remains extremely undeveloped considering population density, level of welfare and traffic volumes, making the freeway network very vulnerable, because there is no backup system at all. Once you're off the freeway, you'll get into a maze of two-lane roads, dotted with city limits, roundabouts, traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, etc.

I will show some pictures in the next post.


The signage features the Highway Gothic (Interstate) font, and is now in a transition to a different layout, however, the font will remain the same on freeways. The non-freeway font has been replaced by a smaller font with less spacing.

All the signs have a blue blackground with white letters. A-roads (freeways) have the prefix "A" (Autosnelweg) and then the number in a red square. Non-freeways have the prefix "N" (Niet-autosnelweg) and are in a yellow square with black numbers.

Two-digit roads belong to the national government and are called a "rijksweg". This means there are non-freeways as a "rijksweg" as well, but there are a limited amount of them. 3-digit roads belong to the provincial government, and numbers <400 are almost always signed, numbers >400 are rarely signed, but increasingly common. There are a few 3-digit freeways, which indeed fall under the authority of the provincial government.

All exits are numbered sequentially, but freeway-to-freeway interchanges are not numbered, because it is not considered an "exit to get off the freeway". Exit numbers can be suffixed with an "a" or "b", and are increasingly common due to added exits, required by new development. All exits have a unique name, and they tend to be better known by their name than by their number.
It has to be noted the average distance between two exits or interchanges in all of the Netherlands is approximately 2 miles. This means you usually have the next exit in sight within a minute of the last exit. The exit density is the highest in urban areas, and lowest in rural areas, although exits over 4 miles apart in rural areas are also rare.

Exits and interchanges are generally signed 1200 meters in advance, but if there is an entrance lane from a previous exit closer than that, shorter distances may be used. The word "afrit" means exit, but is now gradually being replaced by the exit symbol, as is the word "knooppunt", which is being replaced by the interchange symbol. Europe is a continent with a high amount of international traffic and many languages, thus symbols are generally better understood than textual signage.

I will show a signage sequence on a freeway-to-freeway interchange which also has a regular exit inside it.








New signage

A new style of signage is being introduced in the Netherlands since 2008. It is more German-based, with standing arrows which are supposed to reflect the upcoming road layout better, especially in taper situations which are common in the Netherlands.

1. Note the exit symbol instead of the word "afrit".


3. A major change is to place the distance sign after the exit. Previously, it was installed before the exit (300 m before), a major exception in Europe.

Another set:

4. Note the new signage has an awful lot of breaks in place names, a major disadvantage.




Another set:

8. Interchange symbol. Dutch interchange names tend to be named after the tiniest villages, which may be confusing.


10. This should've been an overhead.

Another set:

11. A left exit.

12. there were roadworks at the time.

13. Note the E-numbers on top.


I occasionally get on an overpass and make some pictures of Dutch freeways from above:

1. A1 eastbound near Amersfoort at noon. You can see the shoulder running is not in operation.

2. A big zoom on A1 towards the west.

3. A shoulder running observation camera. They close the shoulder if there is a breakdown or accident. (Or when traffic volumes are not high enough)

4. A28 looking towards my city, Zwolle around 11 am on a winter morning.

5. Looking at the western terminus of A28 near the town of Hoogeveen.

6. top-notch blacktop on A37 east.

7. Traffic congestion on A1 westbound near Deventer around 11 am.

8. Looking east at the same spot.

9. There was a minor traffic accident approximately 10 miles downstream of this location. This freeway is a major truck corridor.

10. A1 freeway westbound near the town of Rijssen, eastern Netherlands, around noon.

11. A so-called "plus lane" on the left. It works the same as shoulder running, only the shoulder remains available. It's an example of weird Dutch rules where such a left lane is easier to construct than a regular lane.

12. Traffic observation camera on A1 between Deventer and Apeldoorn.

13. A28 near the town of Nunspeet, central Netherlands, with it's wooded median.

14. Exit lanes in the Netherlands are designed at 1,000 feet long. I have never seen longer exit and entrance lanes than in the Netherlands.

15. Looking at the empty A37 freeway near the German border east of Emmen. This is the quietest freeway in the Netherlands at 8,000 AADT.

16. Looking west.

I hope you liked the pics  :cool:


J N Winkler:

--- Quote from: Chris on March 24, 2010, 11:04:36 AM ---11. A so-called "plus lane" on the left. It works the same as shoulder running, only the shoulder remains available. It's an example of weird Dutch rules where such a left lane is easier to construct than a regular lane.
--- End quote ---

What are these weird rules, precisely?


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