Velsen, nominee for best cycling city

Velsen is one of the five nominees to become best Cycling City of the Netherlands in 2014. Chosen from a long-list of 19 municipalities, these five municipalities compete to take over the title of current best cycling city ʼs-Hertogenbosch, which was elected in 2011. I will make a small portrait of all five nominees and in reversed alphabetical order Velsen is second after Zwolle.

The municipality of Velsen and its cycle routes.

Even though the municipality consists of no less than 7 different boroughs, (Velsen-North, Velsen-South, IJmuiden*, Santpoort-North, Santpoort-South, Driehuis and Velserbroek) Velsen is the smallest municipality of the five nominees with a population of 67,180. Velsen is not really well-known for its cycling in the Netherlands and the town has a massive man-made barrier right through its heart: the North Sea Canal that links the port of Amsterdam with the North Sea. This year’s theme for Best Cycling City is “Cycling without barriers” so that seems to be a bit odd. But when I visited the town I experienced a good cycling climate that also seems to be improving.

In a general traffic study of 2010, the reason for Velsen’s good cycling policy might be found in this paragraph: “Cycling can be a way to reduce motor-traffic and contribute to a more liveable Velsen. […] Analysis indicates that a regional high-speed cycle route (F22) can increase cycling on mid-to-long-range distances. Combined with the development in e-bikes this can be a good measure to decrease the pressure of motor traffic on secondary routes.” So getting people to make the shift from car to bicycle seems to be the incentive to create a good cycling environment. Which doesn’t have to be bad as long as there is true commitment to really create a good alternative to that car.

Of course words are always easy and the Velsen Cycling Policy Plan from 2010 has beautiful words, such as the main objective:

“Stimulating cycling and improving the competitiveness of cycling as opposed to the car”

The main goals in the cycling policy are familiar too:

  • building connected, safe and direct cycle routes
  • dealing with hazardous traffic situations
  • building pleasant and attractive cycle routes
  • building safe cycle routes to school
  • stimulating and facilitating traffic education
  • offering sufficient and qualitatively good cycle parking facilities
  • completing and improving the recreational cycle network.

All well and good, but how is Velsen going to achieve this? If we dig a bit further in the report we find that the Dutch Cyclists’ Union (Fietsersbond) evaluated cycling in Velsen earlier (2008). As strong points they reported:

  • A very good traffic safety record. Cycling in Velsen is objectively low-risk.
  • Pleasant cycling infrastructure. Not much nuisance by other traffic. Cycle tracks are not too narrow and often cycling has priority.
  • High population density and many destinations within cycling distances.

Weak points were reported to be:

  • Cycling is not competitive with the car. Trips are seldom faster by bicycle and parking costs for cars are low.
  • The North Sea Canal is a geographical barrier. The ferry takes much time and that makes that average cycle speeds are very low. Taking the ferry also requires to make considerable detours.
  • Noisy cycle routes. Because cycle routes are alongside routes for motor traffic, there is a lot of noise from that motor traffic.
  • Comfort. Tiles and brick surfaces increase vibrations while cycling and decrease pleasantness.
  • The number of cycle trips is lower than average for medium-sized towns. 32% of all trips where 34% is the average.
  • Cycling policies are not very well developed and the budget for cycling is unclear.
  • People cycling complain about the cycling environment in Velsen. People note that there is a lot of theft and parking possibilities are not up to [the very high Dutch] standards.

So has Velsen done any concrete work to remedy these weak points in the four years since this report? Yes, that seems to be the case. Problem junctions have been reconstructed, many cycle tracks have a smooth surface of red asphalt now and the municipality has even tried to do something about the ferry, the biggest barrier in town. That ferry across the North Sea Canal had its own paragraph.

“The North Sea Canal is a barrier between the north and south IJmond region. Only at the locks and with the ferry (1x every 20 minutes) the canal can be crossed. The ferry is a vital element in the existing cycling infrastructure. At the same time crossing the large body of water increases – also because of the waiting times – the travel time of cycling between destinations north and south of the canal. It is a wish to decrease the longer travel times because of the ferry. We have asked the city of Amsterdam to increase the frequency of the ferry.”

The ferry in Velsen is almost the only way to get from north to south and vice versa. It takes a lot of time and it is therefore a huge barrier to cycling in Velsen.

But the city of Amsterdam (which is in charge of the ferry across this canal, 20 kilometres from Amsterdam itself) has apparently not increased the number of ferries. You can still only cross the canal three times per hour. It does run non-stop, night and day, but still only 3 times per hour. This may be the reason the 2013 “Regional Mobility Vision for the IJmond Region” proposes a whole new ferry service for only cyclists and pedestrians in addition to the existing ferry (that is shared with motor traffic unfit to use one of the two motor-tunnels under the canal, due to its size or transport of dangerous goods). That the ferry only goes 3 times an hour leads to dangerous situations. There is a traffic light controlled junction near the south terminal and when people cycling see the ferry is about to leave they have been seen to disregard red lights to make sure they catch that particular ferry.

This “dual-carriage way cycle path” may become part of a future “high-speed cycle route” in the IJmond region. (F22). With its large central reservation and distance to the foot way it seems to offer us a glimpse of the future of cycling in the Netherlands.

The most striking piece of new cycling infrastructure I saw in Velsen was the “dual-carriageway cycle path” connecting the north ferry terminal with Velsen-North. This route may become part of the regional high-speed cycle route F22, if that is indeed to be built. The stretch offers a glimpse of what might be the future of cycling in the Netherlands.

This is what the location of the “dual-carriage way cycle path” looks like in Google Streetview. It shows you the 2009 situation. (The house in the distance can serve as point of reference.) The carriage way for motor traffic vanished.

So Velsen is doing great things for cycling not only in theory but also on the streets. Will it be enough though? All in all I fear the town is the outsider of the five nominees with only little chance of winning the title. But I may be surprised by the jury.

My video portrait of Velsen.

Yes, IJmuiden has two capitals. In standard Dutch the IJ represents one sound and therefore both letters are in capital. IJmuiden means IJ-mouth. It refers to lake IJ near Amsterdam that this canal links to the North Sea. IJmond, the name of the region means the same, ‘muiden’ being the old fashioned (and plural) form of ‘mond’ (river mouth).
This was the second portrait of a nominee of the Best Cycling City of the Netherlands 2014 competition. More portraits to follow every other week in the coming time at my regular posting time (when Thursdays start in the Netherlands).

12 thoughts on “Velsen, nominee for best cycling city

  1. Revisiting this post in 2017 as I discovered the Dutch engineer who emigrated to Australia post WW2 and implemented, nay invented, the first of what was to become known here as a “Local Area Traffic Management” scheme in Australia in the mid 1970’s in the suburb I lived in for over 20 years, was born in Velsen. His name was Jan Vreugdenhil and he was the City Engineer for the then City of Woodville, which is in Adelaide in South Australia.

    Unfortunately I believe he passed away in 1977, which was not long after the first LATM was completed. I’m sure given what I’ve read by him and about him that he would’ve reviewed this scheme and made further improvements, based on actual data and operational outcomes. Also unfortunate is that LATM hasn’t really progressed beyond what this scheme did since then in over 40 years. He was an engineer ahead of his time e.g. he wanted a maximum 20mile/hr (30km/hr) speed limit on all residential streets, and it was only in the 21st century that a default max for residential streets of 50 km/hr was introduced here. Some suburban areas have a 40km/hr max but this requires a 2/3 majority support from the residents of the local area.

    Also I’m wondering if the GVB has considered implementing a “real time” phone app for the ferry that displays actual arrival and expected departure times. I think this would go some way to alleviate the dangerous behaviour of cyclists rushing to the ferry when they see it at the dock, as well as assist in their journey planning and effort. Similar to what I understand the “Flo” system in Utrecht is intended to achieve for cyclists.

  2. It’s a pity you did not realize that the bulk of the municipality of Velsen is in the other parts (IJmuiden, Velserbroek, both the Santpoorts). Cycling infrastructure is very varied there: apart from bicycle streets and protected bicycle paths with red asphalt there a a number of very bad spots, bad surfaces and crossings which involve narrow 90 degrees turns that are very hard to negotiate on a bicycle. I think these features have cost Velsen the crown in 2014! However, since 2014 the situation is improving a lot, with nice modern cycle paths in IJmuiden, and a doubling of the ferry frequency during rush hours.

  3. I was born in Velsen (the Driehuis part) and used to ride to football matches in Velsen Noord along the road from the ferry in the 1970s. What a brilliant surprise it was for me last summer, when I rode the same route for the first time in decades and saw the dual carriage cycle path! I first thought I was lost, but after a minute I realized it was the old road. The enormous trees added to my confusion, in the 1970s it was nowhere near as green there.
    Every time I make it back to Velsen, I have to ride the “Kanaaldijk”, along the south side of the North Seas Canal, to the “kop van de haven” (the spit between the canal and the docks), across the locks, past the Hoogovens (now called Tata Steel) and back with the “pont” (ferry). One of the world’s great bike rides!

  4. Looking to take a Tyneside delegation on a study tour of Velsen this summer (location mainly driven by the urge to keep costs down, but the cycle city nomination was intriguing). We have the ferry port at the other end of the service at North Shields and also a mix of riverside industrial and traditional town centres. Hoping we’ll find some good lessons to take home.

  5. You guys DELETED a whole street! Wow, no other country on Earth has that kind of technology! *awe*

  6. Hmm…good luck Velsen, but I only know you as the place I catch the ferry en route to somewhere more interesting. But the ferry is free for cyclists, so I should score it a plus point for that.

  7. I looked at the locks in Google Maps. It was interesting, and likely unique, at least to the United States, to have two crossings at each lock (except one). If one gate is open, drivers and cyclists can use the crossing atop the other gate.

    It appears that cycling over the locks takes a very long time. The areas around the locks are very industrial. Is the high quality cycle track standard maintained here?

    I was going to ask about bridge proposals, but based on the height of the ship in your video, it seems a bridge would have to be very tall, thus very long and very expensive.

    1. Haven’t been to the locks. (Too far out and not in the part called Velsen) so I can also only go on what I know you can expect in NL. Seeing that the municipality deems the route a main cycle route I do think the high standards will be maintained. The dual carriage way cycle track is also in an industrial area.

  8. I’m curious why the fast ferry service was replaced with a bus.

    The regular ferry doesn’t seem optimally designed for bicycle service. The ferries in Amsterdam between Centraal and Nord are car-free, thus making loading and unloading a lot faster (and without having to mingle with pedestrians). Is there an opportunity to use different ferries?

    Additionally, is GVB the local transit operator?

    1. I think striking the FFF was a cost thing, not enough passengers. You can also take the train, takes about the same time. This is the only ferry across the canal in Velsen but it is run by the Amsterdam Municipal Transit Company (that’s what GVB stands for, this ferry has the exact same colors as the Amsterdam ferries too). And you’re right, it isn’t best for cycling. That is why the region now proposes an additional ferry service just for cycling and pedestrians, exactly as they are in Amsterdam, north of central station to Amsterdam North.

      1. What really killed the FFF was new safety regulations that meant the hydrofoils couldn’t travel at full speed in the Port of Amsterdam area. This increased journey times from about 30 to almost 40 minutes, which had a detrimental effect on passenger numbers and frequency (with a fixed number of ships, a longer journey means fewer departures per hour). It made the service lose most of its customers.

        Also, one of the reasons the ferry carries motor vehicles is that the nearby motorway tunnel is not accessible to certain types of vehicles, such as tractors and lorries carrying dangerous chemicals.

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