24 Oktoberplein Utrecht

New ’24 Oktoberplein’ fly-over, Utrecht

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.

24 Oktoberplein Utrecht24 Oktoberplein Utrecht
There are cycle tracks besides and under the new fly-over in Utrecht.

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.

24 Oktoberplein Utrecht
24 Oktoberplein shortly after its first construction in 1958. Note that it already had separated cycle paths all around it. Also note the petrol station to the right that can function as a point of reference in all pictures of this post. (picture Utrechts Archief)

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.

24 Oktoberplein Utrecht
This model from circa 1961 already showed the fly-over that was never built until now. The petrol station is top left here. (Picture Utrechts Archief)

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.

24 Oktoberplein Utrecht
The 24 Oktoberplein before the reconstruction in 2009. The shape of the roundabout was altered in the early 1980s for the light-rail line, that takes a left turn from the bottom of the picture. The petrol station is on the bottom right again. (Picture Utrechts Archief)

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.

24 Oktoberplein Utrecht
The new 24 Oktoberplein under the fly-over. Red two-way separated cycle paths go in straight lines all around it. If you cycle you can take the most convenient route. Picture from the large plans in PDF by the city of Utrecht. The petrol station can be seen on the top right hand side. The yellow shape is really present on the ground.

“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.

24 Oktoberplein Utrecht
The cycle tracks around the new fly-over are safe enough that children can cycle to school unaccompanied. Clearly visible is the yellow colour of the shape that forms the 24 Oktoberplein. Note the petrol station in the distance (above the head of the boy in the purple shirt).

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.

20 thoughts on “New ’24 Oktoberplein’ fly-over, Utrecht

  1. Since some commentaries mention the long waiting times for cyclists – have you measured the time differences for cyclists and motorists in passing this junction? From similar constructions in Germany I measured mean times going by car and going by bicycle. A left turn by car gave a mean time of around 20 seconds to pass trough the junction while a left turn by bicycle using the segregated facilities resulted in mean times of 3 minutes and 50 seconds, because you have to pass 5 traffic lights for a left turn.

    1. “Long” is relative. I have not timed the lights but they are certainly not long by your standards! There is only 1 light to go straight on (the light in the median is coordinated and always green when you normally reach it). There are only 2 (sets of) lights for a left turn. I have noticed that the left turn is timed so that you can often make it right after you passed the first set of lights. The maximum waiting times in the Netherlands are about 90 seconds. Anything over 30 seconds is considered ‘long’ by Dutch standards so almost 4 minutes would be totally unacceptable here. The tram does get priority and it will turn many other traffic lights red. Where most traffic is then gets green first, making the order not logical anymore.

      1. The waiting time is as long as it was before the construction of the fly-over. For the cyclists nothing has been gained. The problem with this fly-over is that it is not solving any of the problems Utrecht is facing. There is too much car traffic and as a result too much air pollution. Now this bottleneck has been solved, but the city simply cannot cope with all the cars entering the city. A bit further eastwards a new bottleneck will appear. The fly-over is – as the photo from the archive illustrates- a solution of the past. The plan was in the sixties to build a motorway ring around the city centre. After protests it was stopped halfway. Only the western part of the city has got a beginning of this ‘ring’. The fly-over is building on on a project that was, with good reasons, halted. It is a shame that resources have been spent on this fly-over which you would expect to see in big Chinese cities but not in a relatively small city like Utrecht. It symbolises the fact that the city of Utrecht is afraid – for the fear of the damaging the local economy – to actually control the number of cars entering the city.

  2. There were two separate traffic prognoses: one for air quality (with no increased traffic even with the fly over) and one for constructing the fly over, with exploding traffic quantities even if no fly over would be built. based on the second prognosis the fly over was built.
    The air quality in Utrecht is poor. http://www.utrechtmilieu.nl/meetnet/
    The plans for improving airquality are insufficient to meet the EU standards at 1-1-2015. Byclist inhale a lot of dirt because of increased activity while cycling.
    The waiting time for bicycles for traffic lights was, and still is, unacceptably high.
    From a “greenleft” alderman I would have expected other traffic measures.

  3. I live nearby. The fly-over makes me sad. It is futurism of the past. In the sixties it seemed like a good idea to accomodate car traffic with fly-overs and open up cities for cars.
    The fly-over makes it easier for cars to enter the city. My guess is that it is built for the Jaarbeurs, the commercial fairground. A civil servant told me that the business model of the Jaarbeurs is parking cars. This company depends on accessability by car. And the Jaarbeurs is located near the city centre, so you get a lot of traffic which has to squeeze into the city. I suppose the city of Utrecht has not got the means to buy out the Jaarbeurs and get it out of the city. Next to a motorway would in my view be a more logical location.
    The fly-over now only makes things worse: more cars in a already very busy city.
    I was hoping that the fly-over would make cycling a bit better. But passing this junction from north to south still takes a lot of time. While waiting for the traffic light this summer on a very hot day I noticed that cars from the north and wanting to turn right got three times in a row green light before finally the cyclists wanting to head south got green light. I saw a mother with a small child getting so impatient that she jumped the red light. Since then I try to avoid this junction and look for alternative routes.

    1. I think there will be more cars anyways as the population of Utrecht is growing fairly fast by European standards.
      If you moved the Jaarbeurs away from the station, then more people would probably drive to it.
      I have a hunch it got the go ahead as part of the wider CU2030 development thing.
      Pity they couldn’t have buried the road and left just tramlines and cycle paths on top.

  4. I question the logic to take that volume of traffic through an urban area. As Olivier says, the requirement to tackle localised air pollution created by Internal Combustion Engines is still paramount to prevent respiratory illnesses and premature deaths. This solution seems to exacerbate the problem.

    1. I imagine that a steady stream of cars driving at a constant speed produces less polution than a similar number of cars decelerating, accelerating and running stationary at traffic lights.
      There are very strict rules and regulations regarding air pollution in the Netherlands and I’m sure this will have been looked at when this plan was developped.

      1. Yes, the municipality mentions on this website (in Dutch) that the calculated air quality stays well within legal limits. The city admits there will be more cars at this location, but it claims there will be a reduction in traffic elsewhere.

  5. This overpass seems to work well, but it does put us for a bit of a problem. The A2 highway has 5 lanes in each direction, not counting the exits. With this overpass it’s possible to drive from this big highway to one the many parking facilities in the centre in minutes. The big Park & Ride facilities, build to lure drivers away from the centre, are not used at all, because… well, why should you? Making life easy for car-drivers and expecting them to use the Park & Ride facilities near the entrance of the city… it doesn’t work. Blocking car traffic is not the answer, of course. But one should keep in mind that there is no room for increased traffic, for airpollution is a big problem still, especially near the Weg der Verenigde Naties (the road from the overpass to the centre).

  6. It is interesting too see that the Dutch do get to build infrastructure for cars sometimes 🙂 But actually it’s a good example for other countries since people on bikes and on foot are often neglected or totally forgotten in these big projects.

  7. I guess when people say they think cars should be on the overpass instead of bicycles, they actually mean ALL cars.

    In this case it looks to me like car traffic actually got additional capacity while bicycles still need to wait at traffic lights for cars and the number of roads remains the same as in the 80’s. There are 8 lanes for car traffic at ground level + whatever is on the overpass, but the two way cycle tracks are still the standard width (4.5m?).
    A true car overpass would remove all car lanes from the level of bicycle tracks and in the case of this intersection cyclists would have been able to cycle diagonally, or it could have become a simple bicycle roundabout.

    Sure, you could argue that it’s more expensive and maybe say that “it’s impossible”, but isn’t that what we as cycling advocates should be fighting for?
    Even in the netherlands, you should not remain complacent, despite your huge advantage! 🙂

    I also feel that sometimes bicycles are unfairly given an overpass or driven down into a tunnel, rather than the motor traffic being given this treatment. For a driver, being in a tunnel or driving over a bridge is no big deal, but for cyclists tunnels present a negative social safety feeling, as well as often being accompanied by inclines and curves. There is almost always a reason for this, and it’s called money. I can’t see a reason why a tunnel is built for cyclists rather than the road being raised up on a bridge, other than economic ones.

    1. I’m not going to tell you what cycling advocates should be fighting for, but I believe all road users deserve proper infrastructure. In this case, that means that drivers got something just for them (an overpass) allowing them to drive without stopping, while all other users of the junction (remaining drivers, trams, cyclists, pedestrians) got a less busy junction which is easier to navigate. Everyone wins!

      (On a sidenote, you may claim that the “the two way cycle tracks are still the standard width (4.5m?)”, but you seem to forget there’s two of them, one on each side of the road. That’s twice as much space as cyclists would usually get, even in the Netherlands.)

      1. Well I can’t see the presented solution as “bicycle wins”. Drivers win, bicycles and pedestrians get status quo.
        I suppose that the reduced car traffic will make the junction less daunting to cross, but calling it a win is somewhat complacent in my opinion.

        There are still plenty of traffic lights and a diagonal crossing will take time, even if the lights are synchronized, this means you have to approach the junction at just the right time, otherwise you might get stuck on the median.

        Normally when bicycle or pedestrian overpasses are built above or below roads, this is done so the car road can avoid traffic signals and intersections with other modes.
        In this case, car traffic got an overpass and bicycles still have to contend with 8 lanes of traffic and red lights.
        Not a win in my book.

    1. It’ll probably encourage out-of-town commuters to drive more, and local residents to cycle more. Traffic across the flyover is predominantly to and from the A2 motorway and commuter flows would regularly jam the junction and everything around it to a halt. Now that that is no longer the case, cycling and walking has become more pleasant for local residents.

  8. Interesting since we are working to ground our overpasses here in the Boston area due to livability and accessibility (I think we are at 3/3 for advocates working with the DOT to ground them. Mainly the 1950 designs do not make inviting areas to walk or bike around. Very interesting to see the exact opposite take in this instance. (of course better for folks walking and biking in all versions designed)

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