All about cycling in the Netherlands
Whenever I show new bicycle overpasses, such as the ones in Enschede and Eindhoven, people comment that motor traffic should be on top of the overpass, so people cycling don’t have to go up high inclines. This week I can show you a new overpass for motor traffic that was opened last summer in Utrecht so we can compare.
At the West entrance of the city of Utrecht, the city ring road is close to the main North-South A2 motorway of the Netherlands. It is here that most motor traffic enters the city (all traffic from the North(west), the South and the West) to go to the West-side of the city centre that has huge commercial fair-grounds. Where all that traffic crosses the city ring road a huge junction has long been problematic, especially since the introduction of a light rail line that took a turn against the flow of all that traffic at the same spot since the early 1980s.
The junction was built as a roundabout in the 1950s and named after today’s date: 24 October. I did not know what that date stood for but the fact that it is the gateway to the “Road of the United Nations” should have given it away. On 24 October 1945 the United Nations came into existence when the charter was ratified by most of the signatories. Utrecht named the junction “24 Oktoberplein” (24 October square) after that important date.
Already in the 1960s Utrecht wanted to build an overpass here. But like many other projected overpasses for motor traffic it was never built. However, Utrecht expanded and there is a whole new residential area with 30,000 residents West of this junction now, that led to a dramatic increase in traffic. The capacity of the junction was not enough and sometimes traffic stopped all the way to and on the motorway. To increase the throughput of this junction the plans for the overpass were dug up from the bottom of the drawer.
The original roundabout from the early 1950s was already changed in the early 1980s when the light rail line from Utrecht city centre to Nieuwegein (a satellite town) took a left turn right through the original roundabout. Traffic had to be stopped every time a tram passed. With the new overpass this conflict with the tram and the main flow of motor traffic is eliminated.
“But what about people cycling?”, you might ask. Well this is the Netherlands, people cycling were not forgotten! The new junction below the overpass has seen a complete redesign. We again see the principles of the standard Dutch junction with separated cycle tracks all around it, but in a much larger version. All cycle paths around this huge junction are bidirectional so you can choose the best route for your particular journey to pass this huge junction. The tracks are straight so you don’t have to cycle zig-zag around the motor traffic lanes. Traffic lights are configured in such a way that you can always pass one side of the entire junction ‘in one go’. There is no stopping in the medians. The light rail, or tram line is a little to the side of the junction now. So only one crossing for people cycling and the light rail line remained. This crossing is protected with warning lights and bells. The new junction with all its cycle tracks is certainly not worse for people cycling than the junction there was before. It is still safe enough for children to cycle to school unaccompanied.
The overpass was kept as light as possible so the construction does not cast heavy shadows over the junction below it. On the above map you can see that the whole area, including the petrol station that has been there since the 1950s, has been captured in a yellow square-like shape. This yellow shape can actually be seen on the ground. It marks the boundaries of 24 Oktoberplein and gives the new square a real identity.
The video shows people cycling on the new 24 Oktoberplein.
For a view from a above you can see this video, published by someone who is rightly complaining that the trams make much more noise in the new curve. The view from above also shows the yellow shape of the 24 Oktoberplein very clearly.
This motor traffic overpass is an exceptional piece of infrastructure. In the sense that it is not something that is built regularly in the Netherlands. I understand the need in this particular case, and concentrating motor traffic here leads to quieter routes elsewhere in the city, but I like bicycle overpasses a lot better.