All about cycling in the Netherlands
The cycle highway from Hattem to Zwolle was festively opened by a class of schoolchildren, the alderman for traffic of the city of Zwolle and a representative of the province of Overijssel on November first of 2012. It was the third part of the entire route. The first part consists of ordinary cycling infrastructure from Hattem to a new railroad bridge. The second part is that railroad bridge over the river IJssel that got a cycle path hanging from one side of it. The cycle path on the bridge was already opened in June 2011. But with that third part the total fast cycle route was completed. It means people can now cycle the entire 5.5 kilometre route from Hattem in the province of Gelderland to Zwolle, the capital of the province of Overijssel at high speed away from motor traffic.
The route has almost no intersections and there are no traffic lights. Cyclists have priority all the way and that makes this route a fast and viable alternative to the car. The route for motor traffic is also almost one kilometer longer. The fast cycle route is an attractive and quick route to Zwolle’s central railway station but it can also be used to reach several schools and a commercial area.
Even though the city of Zwolle calls this a “fast cycle route” the route is not one of the 16 routes that were subsidized by the Government as mentioned on the site “doorgaande fietsroutes” (regional through cycle routes). The site “fietsfilevrij” (cycle without traffic jams) doesn’t feature this route either. The only site that reports this route is the “fietssnelwegen” (fast cycle ways) site, on which a map shows it as “finished”. That this route is marketed so poorly makes once again clear that there is much more top quality cycling infrastructure in the Netherlands than most people know.
The actual “fast part” of this route is a 1.4 kilometre long and 5.5 metre wide “cycle super highway” in the municipality of Zwolle, with a surface of smooth concrete and with “intelligent LED lighting”. This part was built by order of the city of Zwolle between April and November 2012 for 650,000 euro. (Details from the site of the builder.)
Novel in the design is a “raised curb lane divider” which prevents people from cycling in the lane in the opposite direction. According to the city of Zwolle it was built to improve safety. But many people were not too happy with this curb. They feared it would not be visible enough and would lead to decreased safety and accidents if people would hit it with their wheels. The city acknowledged the complaints and painted the lane divider blue at first, but now the central curb even has white stripes along both sides of it. There are also warning signs. A lot of measures for a curb that you can even cycle over. I do not know if this lane divider has indeed led to any accidents, but the city of Zwolle does ask people their opinion and keeps a close watch.
The cycle track over the railway bridge is entirely different. When a new railway line was built to connect Lelystad and Almere in the province of Flevoland to Zwolle, a new railway bridge over the river IJssel was needed. The city of Zwolle asked for a cycle path to be included in the design. With the help of the municipality of Hattem, Prorail (the company that builds railways in the Netherlands) and the provinces of Overijssel and Gelderland, the cycle route was indeed included in the design. The ministry of Traffic also financed part of the cycle bridge in 2007.
The cycle bridge is literally attached to the bright red award winning new railroad bridge and it is hanging from one side of it. The bridge therefore has no pillars of its own. There is another bridge like that in Nijmegen. This bridge is nine metres over the water of the river IJssel so there are very long access ramps. The bridge was opened in June 2011. The cycle path is not very wide, at least not to Dutch standards and also when compared to the 5.5 metre wide route I mentioned before. This bridge has two lanes with a width of 1.5 metres, so ‘only’ 3 metres in total. But as can be seen in the video, that doesn’t stop school children cycling three abreast! On the central part of the bridge there is a glass screen to shield people cycling from the fierce winds at 9 metres high in the flat river landscape.
It had always been possible to cycle from Hattem to Zwolle on separate cycle infrastructure, but the old bridge was further away from Hattem and that makes this new cycle route one kilometre shorter. Every day 9,000 people cycled over the old bridge and the authorities expected an increase of 20% because of the new shorter route. This increased cycle traffic was reason for hope that motor traffic congestion would decrease. Easing motor traffic congestion was indeed one reason to build this new cycle route in the first place. Other reasons the city of Zwolle mentions on its site are making cycling convenient and safe, “because it is a green, healthy and fun way to get people from A to B quickly, while they can enjoy some fresh air in nature.”
Video showing the three parts of the fast cycle route from Hattem to Zwolle. Part 1 on normal cycling infrastructure, part 2 (from 3:12) on the railroad bridge and part 3 (from 5:45) on the fast cycle highway in Zwolle.