Uithof central area

Cycling from the University to the Center of Utrecht

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).

Utrecht University Hospital
Utrecht University Hospital. A double bendy bus leaving for the city center on a dedicated bus lane. In front of that a wide red two way cycle path. Private motorized traffic can use the lanes behind the bus. All traffic types are well separated in the Utrecht University Area.

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.

Uithof central area
The central boulevard of the Uithof (Utrecht University Campus) is only accessible for buses and people on bicycles or on foot. The red of the cycle path is clearly visible from top left to bottom right.
Emergency button at a Bike Pool Point

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).

The three main cycle routes to the city center. The blue line is the exact route I show you in the video. Screen shot from the excellent cycle route planner by the Dutch Cyclists’ Union.

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).

16 thoughts on “Cycling from the University to the Center of Utrecht

  1. The video is great.

    Have you considered using the YouTube captioning system rather than just listing the points of interest below? I’ve found the system easy to use when adding captions, and it allows the comments to appear in the right place and time to highlight the points of interest. This is far more accessible for the user, who can also enable and disable the captions as required.

    Sorry if it seems unreasonable to ask more of you! Or if you have already dismissed the captions for some reason. I’ve not fully explored the blog although I plan to. But maybe something to consider in future?

    1. Hi Tim, if you look at many other videos you’ll see that I mostly used the captions, at first even in the place of narration as I do now mostly. I found that many people don’t know about captions and miss them altogether. Many mobile devices don’t show them, nor give the option to show them. So this was an experiment. But I wasn’t too happy with it either. So I’ll have to stick with narration. Which is a lot more work but at least gets the message across.

  2. Are you sure it is 11,000 people working there and only 33,000 patients per year? That’s only 3 persons helped per year per person working there, and even considering technical and administrative staff, it would look like health care could be a little more efficient…

    1. They also do a lot of research there. University hospital and all that. The phd students dissecting rats count towards the 11.000 but don’t do much patient care. Neither do the programmers working on folding proteins.

  3. You are kinda exaggerating with the “All well separated from fast motorized traffic” since one of the routes to the university center is over the “Burgemeester Reigerweg” which does not segregate traffic.

    1. You mean Burgemeester Reigerstraat and that is a perfect example of segregation without separation. I stand by my remark since that is a street where you will find no through traffic and no fast moving traffic. Drivers loose so much time in that street that it is easier for them to avoid it. Here is a blog post explaining it.

      1. As always, an impressive video. However your route is not “the route” to De Uithof. The busiest one is the route along Nobelstraat and Burgemeester Reigerstraat. As a matter of fact, its so crowded that the municipality promotes the route along Biltstraat – Berenkuil – Leuvenlaan as alternative. It is only 400 meters longer then the first route but probably faster.
        I represented the Fietsersbond in a advisory group of officers of the municipality to improve both routes. I do not agree with your remarks on the Reigerstraat. As the “fietssuggestiestroken” are far too narrwow to accomodate the huge number of cyclists and are blocked frequently by cars, the “formal” design does not represent the real situation on the road. From Nachtegaalstraat to Reigerstraat have to weave into the stream of cars and buses with almost no room left for the cyclists. We advised to take away car parking places, remove any fietsstrook striping and place large block signs as shown in this link (http://goo.gl/maps/GL0fM) where visual space is made for cyclists from Berenkuil to Biltstraat at the junction with F.C. Dondersstraat. In practice this works spectacularly well.
        From Reigerstraat to Nachtegaalstraat the traffic light is often not reachable in rush hours as the road is blocked by buses and or vans waiting for the same traffic light. So there is a serious problem there.

  4. Because you’ve made the video go faster than real-time it all looks a bit more frantic than I’m sure it is in real life. It might be an idea to note how much the video has been made faster, and perhaps to slow down to real time at interesting points?

  5. Tree in the bike path at 7:17? Looks like maybe the bike path was expanded into space that was previously sidewalk, thus the tree is in the middle of the path? Excellent video and post!

    1. I have the same situation on my doorstep. The – big – tree was there first, so the bike path runs around it.

    1. Thanks for your compliments (again!) Richard. Your post is lovely too. That ride along the Vecht river is really special with all the great mansions. Utrecht is of course my favorite city. Haven’t lived there for 17 years now but it still feels like home. Utrecht must be careful though with regard to the cycling infra, the development cannot stop, but it seems not much has been done in Utrecht in the last decade.

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