Cycle tour in Zaanstad (prov. North-Holland)

Recently I was invited to participate in a cycle tour in the municipality of Zaanstad. Home to one of the best known tourist destinations of the Netherlands: the windmills of Zaanse Schans. The local branch of the Cyclist’s Union used Twitter to invite some people* from around the country to come and have a look and comment on some situations they are currently debating with the city council.

We had a pleasant ride and from a foreign perspective the cycling climate is actually very well in the Zaan river region. Zaanstad, in the province of North-Holland, is not actually a “city” as the name implies, but rather a collection of seven villages and one town (Zaandam) so there is a lot of countryside in between the villages. Those different residential areas are all very well-connected with excellent cycling infrastructure. Sometimes we did find superfluous gates or bollards and some of the older village streets are narrow and without any cycle provisions. That cannot be changed sometimes, but it is a pity that also newly designed and constructed streets are narrow. The video shows one such street where cyclists even have to share to road with buses. For a new street that is a missed opportunity.

Cycle tour in the Zaan river region. The still shows the narrow bridge in Krommenie mentioned in the blog post.

A pressing problem is a narrow bridge in the village Krommenie. The exact problem is explained on the blog of the local branch of the Cyclists’ Union:

“Especially for cyclists (and mopeds) the situation is very dangerous.
The bridge is a bottleneck (…) there are just two lanes both not even 2.5 meters wide.
Cyclists and drivers (..) are forced to merge, and it is merging two very unequal traffic types.

Suggested are the following solutions:

  • a new bridge, wide enough for the different types of traffic;
  • a new separate cycle path (like an overhanging edge) attached to the side of the existing bridge (a method not new to the council); or
  • a new cycle bridge next to the present bridge.

What ever solution is chosen, action needs to be taken urgently, very urgently, because the council already acknowledged this bridge as an essential but problematic connection for cyclists in their 2007 cycle plan.”

Missing link
A very strange missing link. From the edge of the 30km/h zone to the cycle path, there is about 10 meters (30 feet) in which all cyclists have to turn left in a yellow (!) left turning lane. One of the more peculiar traffic situations I have ever seen in the Netherlands. It could very easily have been designed differently and with a seamless connection between 30km/h zone and cycle path.

We also found one strangely designed central left turning lane for cyclists just outside a 30 km/h zone that has to be used by all passing cyclists to reach a cycle path just 10 meters further. The situation could very easily have been designed differently, so that the cycle path and the 30km/h zone would have been connected and motorized traffic would have to make a right turn instead of the left turn that has to be made by cyclists now.

Krommenie junction
This strange junction in Krommenie has a yellow colored left turning lane for cyclists just outside a 30km/h zone that all cyclists passing here have to take to reach the cycle path just 10 meters further. Right a possible solution that would make this junction far better for cyclists: a continuation of the 30km/h zone connecting the cycle path and forcing motorized traffic to take a right turn. Cyclists have priority that way as they have in the cycle street and the cycle path.  (Image Google Maps)

The brand new bicycle parking facility in the video looks fantastic but it plays a role in a fierce debate that is going on about the council’s bicycle parking policies. The council has forbidden to park bicycles on the streets in an area around the Zaandam railway station. But –according to the local branch of the Cyclists’ Union- it has not provided enough alternative parking facilities and it is unclear where exactly the no-parking area ends. Right in the unclear zone is a supermarket. The Dutch are used to parking their bicycles right in front of a supermarket, but in this case that may suddenly be forbidden. On top of all this, the council decided to remove ‘wrongly parked’ bicycles without advance warning, which is against Dutch law. This infuriated the Cyclists’ Union. Their answer to the claim of the city that bikes should be parked in the indoor facility is “you cannot expect people to walk 250 meters to that bicycle parking facility with bags full of groceries for a week”.

Their conclusion is published on the blog: “The council has not communicated the bicycle parking policies well enough. The policy itself was against the law and it has been enforced in a negligent way. It is now unclear if and how many people have had to pay a fine that they shouldn’t have. The council does not solve the bike parking problem and tries to give the impression that cyclists are to blame for the chaos caused by the council’s own failing planning and policies.”

This debate is not over yet! Clearly the situation in the Netherlands is not always perfect, there is always room for improvement.

Zaanstad Cycle Path
One of the perfect Zaanstad Cycle Paths connecting the different former villages. A smooth surface of asphalt, lit at night, wide and far away from motorized traffic.

But there are not only problems as we see on another part of the blog: “The Cyclists’ Union is pleased the council has decided to update the surface of some tiled cycle paths, where it had become dangerous to cycle, because of ridges between the tiles. The new smooth asphalt makes it a pleasure again to cycle there.”

* Some of the riders were: @sonjapuhldiele (organizer) @gdwith, @gerritfaber and @adamfietst from the Amsterdam branch of the Cyclists’ Union, @amsterdamize (mobility consultant), @herbert_tiemens (traffic planner from the Utrecht Region) and myself.

5 thoughts on “Cycle tour in Zaanstad (prov. North-Holland)

  1. I bet that left turning bike lane is the only element from The Netherlands that the engineers behind AASHTO’s Bikeway Design Handbook brought over to the US. I think it’s equally sad as it his laughable that the AASHTO Bikeway Design Handbook claims to include elements influenced by Dutch design.

    Hopefully, maybe, within 10 years the US can have infrastructure that will let cities achieve bike modeshare at the 20%+ mark.

  2. @highwayman: in case you hadn’t guessed, the strange pile of wooden houses appearing at about 35 secs into the video is a hotel. Tourists are well catered for …

  3. Even if you’re documenting some remaining faults (plus some new ones that should not have cropped up under the “should know better” presumption), this foreigner and tourist wanna-be would love to see Zaanstad and the surrounding area –and not just because of the infrastructure. Thanks for the travelogue. Keep at it, Mark.

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