Cycling in the Utrecht Science Park

The Utrecht University Area (or Utrecht Science Park) lies to the east of the city of Utrecht. It measures about 2 kilometres from east to west and about 1.5 kilometres north to south which gives it a size of about 300 hectares. That makes the area almost twice the size of the historic city centre of Utrecht that we can find at a distance of a little over 2 kilometres.

Comparing the size of the Utrecht University area to the city centre. (Picture courtesy of Utrecht University based on Google Maps).

The University reports that on a normal working day around 70,000 people are in the Utrecht Science Park to work, study or live.

Cycling on the central boulevard of the Utrecht Science Park. Note the double articulated bus on the bus only lane to the right and the taxi. No private motorised vehicles are allowed there.

The decision to build the university at this location was taken in 1958 when it was thought that the city did not have space enough for all the university buildings. The area had always been kept free of buildings for military reasons, but with the arrival of air planes it was no longer necessary to keep a free field of fire to protect the city. The first building activities started in 1961, even before there was a real spatial plan. The lack of a spatial vision for the area would prove a problem later on. When building really took off in the late 1960s, a plan finally arrived in 1968. But in line with the times, it was large scale, designed around the car and with huge functional buildings only. In the 1970s the area was still mainly empty with large solitary modernist buildings at particularly the edges of the area. It was as if the university wanted to mark the borders of its new territory.

This model from 1968 shows how different the Dutch thought about city planning in the 1960s. This is a large scale area designed around the car. (Picture Utrechts Archief)
The Utrecht University Area in 1976. Not much of the model was actually built. What was there was an unpleasant mostly empty space with scattered large scale solitary buildings. (Picture Utrechts Archief)

People complained the area was unpleasant and lacked cohesion. To them it had become an empty desolate place far away from the bubbling city centre. The complaints led to a new plan and to improve the cohesion, the area designated for buildings was reduced considerably. The existing area was clustered and this led to fewer and (relatively) smaller buildings closer to each other. The different clusters got different functions and one was considered to be the centre of the Utrecht Science Park. In this centre a central boulevard was constructed to form the heart of the entire area.

This rendering from 2008 shows the new plans to bring cohesion in the area with newly defined clusters that each have their own purpose. (Picture Utrecht University)
This rendering from 2008 shows the new plans to bring cohesion in the area with newly defined square shaped clusters that each have their own purpose. The darker buildings already existed, the paler buildings were new designs, most of which have indeed been built since. (Picture Utrecht University)
The Utrecht University central cluster. The area has been filled in and it is much denser now. Clearly visible is the wide cycle route slightly meandering on the main boulevard of this central cluster.

On the central boulevard you can still see some of the huge (once solitary) buildings of the 1960s, but with the newer buildings the boulevard is much denser now and this creates a much better atmosphere. There will be further building activities in the coming years. The boulevard is not accessible to private motorised traffic. Only people walking and cycling and public transport can use the central boulevard. Where there are buses now, the bus lanes will be transformed into a light rail connection to the city centre in the coming years (building is already taking place). Cars can get to the Utrecht Science Park, but they arrive from a different route and are led to huge parking garages a little bit away from the centre.

Cycling on the wide cycle route of the central boulevard of the Utrecht Science Park.

For my video I cycled up and down the boulevard around lunch time and you will see the area is bustling with activities. People enjoy the good weather to have a quick bite in the sun or they go from faculties to the more public buildings and vice versa. That there is a truck from some builders parked on the cycle way is no problem at all. Because the cycle way is extremely wide here, you can cycle around it easily. There is now also student housing in the area. At the moment for 2,000 students, but that can be expanded to 5,000. Something that originally also wasn’t planned, but it makes the Utrecht Science Park much more lively too.

Cycling on the wide cycle route of the central boulevard of the Utrecht Science Park. Other students are relaxing on the grass right beside the cycle way. Not something you would be likely to do if motor traffic was passing by this close!

Some still consider this university area to be remote, but at least the desolate atmosphere is now completely gone, especially on the central boulevard.

Cycling on the wide cycle way of the central boulevard of the Utrecht Science Park


The plan information for this post came from the “Plantoelichting stedenbouwkundig plan De Uithof“. The video was filmed on 10th June 2014, just before the summer holidays.





5 thoughts on “Cycling in the Utrecht Science Park

  1. In Nairobi, Kenya there should be conscience on Non-Motorised Transport to take care of the cyclist and construct paths. Thanks for this great idea.

  2. Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett wrote in the 1909 Plan of Chicago why it’s important to make plans, which, as you say, was not done for the Utrecht Science Park.

    “[writing about the so-called expense of the feature of any plan…] Good order and convenience are not expensive; but haphazard and ill-considered projects invariably result in extravagance and wastefulness. A plan insures that whenever any public or semi-public work shall be undertaken, it will fall into its proper and predetermined place in the general scheme, and thus contribute to the unity and dignity of the city.”

    From your post I feel that without the plan they built a wasteful building complex.

  3. Apart from great cycling experience, it’s interesting to see that what was considered good planning in the 60’s was later rejected and reconsidered in the Netherlands. But this sort of modernist planning still proliferates in other parts of the world. In Yekaterinburg for instance we have a planned univercity campus of similar kind – on the far outskirts of the city and buildings would be very sparsly located.

    How did they realise that it the initial plan was bad? Did they listen to the public or did the planners themselves came up with new ideas?

  4. Thank you for visiting my natural habitat. The first part in your video, from 0:11 to 0:46 is a missing link that was constructed quit recently. During the construction of the bus lane (around 2000) there was a temporary path on that trajectory, which was removed afterwards. For over 10 years you had to keep right (at 0:11), going left underneath a building on a far too narrow path to return on the route at 0:46 with a sharp right corner, loosing all speed again. The part starting at 0:46 actually was built as a temporary bus lane during the construction of the real one. That makes it probably the most durable cycle path in the world and also explains its spectacular width.
    During the construction of the light railway (july 2015 – sep 2016) this again will be a bus lane. The coming of the light railway so far has proven to be a chance for cycling and not a threat. The road ‘Weg naar de wetenschap’ at the very end of your video also got a brand new cycling road of superb quality.
    During construction of the light railway there are some problems for cyclists. The local users (UU, Hogeschool, UMC Utrecht) insisted that three crossings should be open at all times. The path starting at 0:11 ends half way on the Cambridgelaan. There you have to cross the road to a path the south side to return to the north side at junction with the Bolognalaan, being designed spectacular unsafe, especially in the other direction. The missing link at the north side of the Cambridgelaan will be constructed as temporary path during the construction. And because it is cheaper to leave it there afterwards the to remove it, it will be designed with a permanent quality.
    I do not agree with the truck on the cycle path. As clearly shown it limits your line of view severely on a sometimes extremely busy route. Also, its completely prohibited, and a serious problem in the science park. Despite all my attempts, the permanent building activities lead to a lot of illegal activities with rightout dangerous effects for cyclists. There are a lot of complaints about this, but nobody gives a (….). Also the patron, the local safety supervisors nor the police, nor the municipality held the constructors to the given permits.
    See also (in Dutch) http://www.kegge13.nl/fiets/index.php?i=Utrecht_De_Uithof

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