All about cycling in the Netherlands
The oldest traffic tunnel in the Netherlands can be found in Rotterdam. It connects the two banks of the River ‘Nieuwe Maas’ (New Meuse). The first talks of creating a tunnel date back as far as 1899. Since Rotterdam has always been an important port (from 1962 to 2004 it was even the busiest port in the world) a bridge on this location would have had to be constructed too tall to allow sea ships passage. After long debates the decision to construct the tunnel was finally taken in 1933.
The tunnel was built from 1937 to 1942. It consists of a set of pre-fabricated tubes that were sunken into a trench that was dug in the river floor. This technique had never been used in Europe before. Two adjacent tubes are for motorised traffic (2×2 lanes). Right next to those there are two stacked tubes. One for pedestrians, on top of which there is one for cyclists. Motorised traffic reaches the tubes via long access roads. Pedestrians and cyclists enter their tunnel from an entirely different location by escalators. Therefore, as a cyclist you could be unaware there even is a tunnel for motorised traffic.
Construction of the tunnel started in 1937. When World War II reached the Netherlands in May 1940, Rotterdam was heavily bombed. The entire historic city centre was wiped flat. However, the tunnel was spared and it was completed during the Nazi occupation. On the 14th of February 1942 there was a secret opening ceremony without Nazi participation.
The tunnel is a magnificent and early example of elaborate separate infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians versus motorised traffic. The visible ventilation towers with copper dome roofs are of high architectural quality. With the tunnel they have been a landmark for Rotterdam for almost 70 years now. About 75,000 vehicles and about 4,500 cyclists still use this tunnel daily. In the 1950s a staggering 40,000 cyclists used the four escalators on either side of the tunnel every day. In the morning three were used in the direction of the centre and in the evening it was the other way around. Nowadays there are far less cyclists. Partly due to the decline of cycling in the 1960s and 1970s but also because there are more bridges and tunnels now.
The video shows a ride through the tunnel
The actual bicycle tunnel is 585 meters (640 yards) long and the deepest point of the tunnel is 20 meters (66Ft) below the surface. After the first bridge in 1878, the Maastunnel was only the second permanent connection across the river. Since the tunnel was built several other bridges and tunnels were constructed. Reducing the importance of this first tunnel. Besides more tunnels for motorised traffic outside the city centre, there are now also a railway tunnel and a metro tunnel. Cyclists wanting to cross the river in the city centre have a choice nowadays between the Maastunnel and two bridges. The 1981 replacement of the original 1878 bridge and the Erasmus bridge aka the Swan from 1996. But they can also use the elaborate regional “waterbus” network. On the waterbus bicycles can be taken for free.
This post, written by me, was originally published on ‘A view from the cycle path’ on Thursday, 10 March 2011
Original 14 comments
Green Idea Factory said… Nice. I suppose most people with cargobikes take the alternative routes? 10 March 2011 02:57
Mark Wagenbuur said… @Green Idea Factory: not shown in the video, but there are also elevators. 10 March 2011 07:24
amoeba said… We can only dream of such a facility in the UK. I imagine that the additional costs of a cycle facility like this are pretty insignificant compared with the road tunnel. Especially when the true extent of the benefits to the economy and wider society of encouraging cycling are considered. 10 March 2011 08:36
Matt Nicholas said… I have ridden through this (and indeed the Beneluxtunnel and the Erasmusbrug/Willemsbrug) several times now. Always a great experience to use those ancient wooden escalators (never used the lift which I think is attended), and to ride through the strangely still air. It also seems to offer gentler gradients than any of the other crossings. Perhaps a daft question but I wonder what those raised plastic objects between the escalators are for? 10 March 2011 10:44
Mark Wagenbuur said… Matt: the plastic objects prevent people sliding down there. That would be dangerous. Indeed the gradients in the tunnel are a lot friendlier than those for the bridges. 10 March 2011 12:45
Margo en Erik said… @amoeba: In Belgium there are similar tunnels, the additional costs are indeed insignificant: the pedestrian/cycling tunnel serves as emergency tunnel. The ventilation system continuously creates a slightly elevated pressure so that flames or toxic gases can not enter the emergency tunnel. 10 March 2011 14:45
Neil said… The video answered my question of how people put their bikes on the escalator (I think David might have mentioned something like it before), but I can’t really believe it being as easy as the video seemed to show. Are the escalator steps any bigger? Or is it just the technique And I can’t see bikes on escalators being allowed in the UK. 10 March 2011 15:32
timoohz said… You could have made this a music video, just by adding “the lovers meet again” scene at the end of the video. Nobody would’ve known its really a video about bicycle infrastructure. Although the bikes are a clue :) The escalator looks similar to the ones used in shopping malls etc, or is the “step” exceptionally long or something? There seemed to be no problems to get the front wheel to catch the edge, so the bike goes up all by itself. The escalator looks very handy. Makes me want to ‘invade’ some mall with my bike so I can test it. 10 March 2011 18:08
David Hembrow said… Neil, Timoohz: I never tried this when I lived in the UK, but quickly adapted to it in NL. So far as I can tell, on the escalators I’ve used, the steps are just the same size. It really is just a technique of turning the wheel slightly. Because both wheels are actually on something level (i.e. the step) the bike doesn’t try to roll down-hill at all, so all you have to do is hold it upright – much as you would if you were standing still but not on an escalator. Mark made photos of another bike escalator here. 10 March 2011 20:43
Green Idea Factory said… @Neil: I noticed some time ago that the rules in the Tube in London are the opposite of the smaller but very heavily-used metro in Prague, i.e. in Prague bikes are allowed on escalators but not on lifts (some stations are so deep that they have no public lifts nor stairs, but the rule also applies to shallower platforms and heavy rail train stations.) That said standard escalators are not ideal for bikes, in particular loaded ones. I once let a bike get away from me on the third longest metro escalator in Prague and it could have killed someone. The longer inter-level moving walkways like the ones at newer shopping centers are better (these are the kind with kind of linking function with the wheels on shopping trolleys). 10 March 2011 21:17
Matt Nicholas said… Thanks Mark, seems obvious with hindsight. Also aren’t there some steps at the bottom of the escalators leading to a pedestrian tunnel underneath the cycle tunnel? 11 March 2011 11:39
Carlton Reid said… @amoeba UK does have such tunnels. Greenwich one is OK but my local one is my fave, the Tyne tunnel, built in 1951, a good 13 years before the first car tunnel was put in. Story, pix and video 11 March 2011 18:22
aseasyasridingabike said… That looks pretty good, Carlton. Thanks for drawing my attention to it. 12 March 2011 00:06
hercule said… Looks like a much higher quality experience than Glasgow can offer. The Clyde Tunnel has no less than TWO cycle tunnels, one for northbound, the other southbound, each of which shares a pedestrian walkway. You can at least cycle all the way without any need for steps or escalator and reach interesting speeds by the time you reach the middle! When I used it (in the late 1980s) it was largely unused except by loitering youths who left their marks on the walls. There is (or was) a much smaller one under the Forth and Clyde Canal west of Anniesland, but that was a very dark, damp and forbidding place – I think it was later closed up. 13 March 2011 18:14