In 2011 it was commemorated that it had been 50 years since Utrecht University started moving out of the city center to a rural area to the east of the city called ‘de Uithof’. This was in line with the policies of the time. Everything had to be easily accessible with cars and the city centers were not fit for that. Over the last 50 years many faculties have now completely been moved to the new area, including the huge university hospital. (11,000 employees, 33,000 hospital admissions in 2011).
In a tv interview for the 50 year anniversary a spokesperson gave some interesting facts. Every day 60,000 people need to be in de Uithof; for work, as a student or for some business in the hospital. The busiest bus line transports 20,000 people every day. Even with double bendy buses and intervals of only 3 minutes that is pushing the limits of a bus line. The city is therefore building a light rail connection to Utrecht’s Central Railway Station.
A lot of people also arrive by bicycle: 20,000 per day. And of the final 20,000 people, a number lives in the area (there is a lot of student housing) and the rest will come with one of the other bus lines or by car.
In the beginning the area was hated for it’s remoteness. On top of that the 1960s modernistic city planning policies led to long wide roads with only a few big concrete blocks for buildings. Over the years things have turned for the better says an interesting website in English about the area. Nowadays there is a lot of much more interesting architecture and the central boulevard was made inaccessible for cars. Only the busy bus lines and cyclists go there now. In a YouTube video about de Uithof we see lots of cyclists and bicycles, but no cars, they are there, but you don’t need to see them.
It is striking that so many people come by bicycle because the situation has things against them. The distance from the city center is 5 to 7 kilometers. The area is also remote in the sense that on the roads leading to it not many people live. To some these routes therefore feel socially unsafe especially in the darker seasons. After 18 women who cycled alone in the area had been sexually assaulted from 1995 to 2001, the university tried to help in setting up ‘fietspoolplaatsen’ (cycle pool points). The points are situated where the cyclists would leave the area and at places where a lot of people are: in view of a bus stop or a building. They have a well-lit waiting area with an emergency button on a pole to instantly connect to the university security. People could meet here to cycle to the city together. But as this video explains (in Dutch) the points are not, and have never been, used very well. People who feel unsafe probably found other solutions for their journey. Ranging from taking the bus to making your own arrangements for cycling together. That the assaults stopped abruptly right away may have helped too.
One thing that does increase the number of people cycling is good cycling infrastructure. There are three main cycle routes to the city. All well separated from fast motorized traffic. In the video I show you one: the ‘Weg tot de Wetenschap’ (Road to Science).
Some observations regarding the video
00:00 A group of 7 boys with one adult cycling to a swimming pool.
00:08 A right turning car gives priority correctly.
00:24 Start of the car free central boulevard of the University Campus
00:31 A taxi is allowed to take the bus lane.
00:37 A white van, a maintenance vehicle, also uses the bus lane.
01:00 The width of the cycle path seems to be at least 5 meters (16Ft).
01:12 The main cycle route is diverted to the left, to a slightly narrower cycle path.
01:39 To the left you can see a Cycle Pool Point.
01:47 Motorway crossing.
01:57 To the left trees were moved for a future light rail line.
02:00 There is a patch where for every single tree the roots had to be taken out.
02:10 This whole road will be redesigned.
02:27 The junction has to be redesigned too. It cannot handle all cycle traffic in rush hour.
02:33 The grass is mown. Investigations show that short grass makes a route subjectively feel more safe.
03:20 I cross at a pedestrian crossing. That is not allowed, but a little bit further down there were road works.
03:34 The right turn lane is leading to army barracks.
03:40 The army barracks exit, both have to give priority to cyclists.
03:55 The motorway entry has to give way to cyclists too. Note the speed bump for motorized traffic.
04:00 The second part of the motorway entrance is busier, so this one is traffic light controlled.
04:07 Note the central verge between the two directions of cycle traffic.
04:11 The lights at the motorway exit are coordinated with those for the entrance. Cyclists only have to stop once.
04:12 Post should not be there, unneccessary.
04:15 Cycle route is now on a parking lot for residents. That is not up to standards for a main cycle route.
04:37 A mother and 3 children on their way on three bicycles.
04:43 They can be easily passed even with a pedestrian walking on the cycle path.
05:26 To the right an area with student housing.
06:14 Street narrows so much that there is only room for a cycle lane.
06:15 The cyclist coming the wrong way while on his phone is an idiot.
06:20 The traffic light to cross the innercity ring road takes far too long to turn green.
06:33 Both cyclists mistakenly think it’s turning green.
06:36 The mother and 3 children have caught up again and turn right now.
07:12 Most cars that just went past are now waiting for a red light. This time the cyclists can pass them.
07:19 Right turn into a 30km/h (18mph) zone. The medieval city center.
07:24 Traffic from the right has the right of way.
07:32 Very many delivery vehicles in this narrow shopping street,
07:38 but they’re outnumbered by people and bicycles.
07:40 The street is one way for motorized traffic but two way for cyclists.
07:43 Bicycle parking for supermarket (to the right).