Bicycle rush hour at Vredenburg, Utrecht

Some weeks ago I had to do a course I didn’t find useful at all. I couldn’t find a good excuse for wriggling out of it, but as it turned out, there was a good thing about this course after all! And that was its location, or, to be more precise: the view from it. When I looked out of the window I could see one of the busiest cycle routes in Utrecht, that had been rebuilt just days earlier!

Cycling in Utrecht during morning rush hour in April 2014.

Utrecht is reconstructing its Central Station Area and this is on the edge of that area. Vredenburg has long been a major east west route that connects to a further street that I have shown you in an earlier blog post. This was a major arterial road for hundreds of years. But for more than 7 years reconstruction has been going on now. A reconstruction that is now in its final stages. A new music theatre was just finished and right next to it an apartment building on top of a shopping centre. In the basement of this new building there is room for several hundreds of bicycles in an underground parking facility. This street can finally get the lay-out of a “normal” street again and the city has started with building a new 4.5 metre wide bi-directional cycle path on the south side of the street. The south side path will be bi-directional because it connects to a new bi-directional path in the station area. So most people will use this bi-directional path. However, for those people who want to arrive at a destination on the north-side of the street, there will also be a one-directional cycle path there. That second path will be built in a later stage of the reconstruction of this street. It is what you often see in the Netherlands: a bi-directional path on one side, but only as an extra option. Because you need to be able to cycle on both sides of the street, so there is then also a one-way path on the other side of the street.

sketch of Vredenburg Utrecht
One sketch of the redesigned Vredenburg in Utrecht. The darker lanes are bus lanes only. On the south side the 4.5 metre wide bi-directional cycle path has been finished. The 2.5 metre wide one way cycle track on the north side will be built late 2014. New trees, 19 in total, will be planted as well. There are other sketches too, with a different number of bus stops. I don’t know how many bus stops there are going to be, but the cycle path was built like this, I expect the north-side path to be built like this too.

Up until the 1990s private motorized traffic had been allowed to use this street on the north side of Vredenburg square. In the 1960s it was a big arterial road with at least 4 and sometimes 6 lanes of traffic, including bus lanes. Nowadays only buses use the street and the many people cycling. An estimated 20,000 people pass here every day on their bicycle. Motor traffic was relocated wide around the old city centre. Not to one particular new route, but it was dispersed over a large number of other routes.

vredenburg 1964
Vredenburg in 1964, 5 lanes of traffic and a bus lane. At least there were cycle paths at both sides of the street (which stopped at the intersection in the far distance!). But just look at all those car lanes… what a waste of space! Picture courtesy of Utrechts Archief.

Today all you see is buses and people cycling. During rush hour even more people cycle than there are people walking. This reverses during shop hours. Because this is in the heart of Utrecht’s main shopping district, you will see a lot of pedestrians. This has been a main shopping street for a very long time. Google offers you a look into one of the very old shops, a large and very classic store for household items. A well-known store in the region of Utrecht.

The intersection Vredenburg – Lange Viestraat – Sint Jacobsstraat in 2014 is dominated by people cycling in morning rush hour.

I found another picture from 1961 that was taken from the same location from which I now filmed, only from a lower floor. If we compare the 1961 situation to the way the street is functioning now, we can see just how much mobility in the city centres of Dutch cities has changed. Private motorised traffic no longer dominates the streets, but buses and people cycling.

Vredenburg in 1961 was a place with a lot of east – west through motor traffic. In 2014 there is still a lot of east west traffic, but in buses and on bicycles. (1961 picture courtesy of Utrechts Archief)

From my location at the 6th floor I could see how impressive it is to see so many people cycling during morning rush hour. I had not been prepared for this view so I didn’t bring my normal camera. Luckily my smart phone is able to make acceptable video too, even through slightly tinted glass windows. Because of the glass I didn’t capture street sounds and that is why this video has music again.

La Vie
This week’s video was shot from the top floor in the corner of this shopping centre / conference building.

The building itself is also being changed. It will lose the brown and chrome 1980s façade and be open and light. You can see reconstruction has already started on the lower floors of the right hand side. It will be a completely new street this way.

What the corner building will look like next year after the façade will be completely renewed.

And finally, that look down on an intersection that handles 20,000 people cycling per day, in morning rush hour.

Utrecht morning rush hour


15 thoughts on “Bicycle rush hour at Vredenburg, Utrecht

  1. The 1962 photograph of Vredenberg bears a striking resemblance to what the first cycle track on Figueroa St in Los Angeles will look like when its completed in 2016. It will have continental crosswalks as in the 1962 photo of Vredenberg, bus stops with the cycle track running behind it, dedicated bicycle only signals and no right turn traffic signals for motorists when the bicycle signals are activated.

    It will have a cycle track that would be considered quite narrow for the Netherlands, but it gets a much needed foot in the door. There is a built in supply of approximately 7,000 bicycles on the USC campus. At least some of them should be expected to immediately start using the cycle track when its finished, much like turning on a faucet.

    This will be decades behind the bicycle infrastructure now being installed in the Netherlands, but one of the most advanced on-street bikeways in the U.S.

    Here’s a look at some of the features that the street will have:


    Also, I’m usually very disappointed when I look at the videos that people have made of Los Angeles CicLAvia events. Most of the videos are just not up to the quality that you consistently produce, Mark.

    Then, at the last CicLAvia that took place along Wilshire Blvd someone used a drone to shoot the action of the bicycling below. I felt like posting it on this website a few weeks back and commenting that I think I’ve found a video that in some ways beats those on the Bicycledutch website and jokingly suggesting that maybe you should look into getting a drone to gets a birds eye view.


    But then, Mark, you sit a few floors up in a building and shoot a video on your smartphone of bicyclists that in many ways gives a similar perspective that the drone shots did and in many ways is just as entertaining.

    1. Ha! Yes, a lot is, but this new cycle track is an exception! This is how it will finally look. The rest of the street (where the buses are and further to the foreground) has yet to be reconstructed.

  2. Don’t forget to mention that the new appartment building ‘Vredenburg’ has a guarded underground bicycle parking which is free for the first 24 hours.

  3. That 1964 picture officially puts Australia at least 50 years behind the NL. How depressing.

    1. 50 years behind in thinking and lost opportunities, but with an affordable investment in cycling infrastructure for the next 10 years we would catch up to the Netherlands.

      1. Doubtful, but hopeful. Ideas travel faster nowadays (thanks largely to resources like this – thanks, Mark).

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