All about cycling in the Netherlands
The cycle route that forms the main entrance to the Utrecht Science Park was recently updated. The whole “Road to Science” as it is called (Weg tot de Wetenschap) had to be reconstructed, because a light rail to the University Area is currently being built. The city of Utrecht took the opportunity to widen the cycleway and to straighten it out, literally, at some of the intersections in this street.
There are three major routes for cycling to the University area. Two of those routes come together on this street as the final part of the route. So it is a very busy street. On an average weekday over 12,000 people cycle here. The cycleway was already bi-directional on one side of the street. That was possible because there are no functions on this street. In the categorization of the Sustainable Safety policies of the Netherlands, this is a distributor road, people only use it to get from A to B quickly. Because of the lack of end-destinations and side streets a bi-directional cycleway is perfectly possible. The number of people cycling warranted a widening. It is now just as wide as the main cycleway in the central boulevard of the Utrecht Science Park that I showed you a couple of weeks ago. Where the video of that post ended we continue today. So we cycle from the Science Park in the direction of the city centre.
The first intersection before we even reach the street was already changed significantly. The cycleway was moved sideways so a chicane was no longer necessary to connect to the cycleway under the viaduct of the A27 motorway. The cycleway now continues in red asphalt on the intersection itself. Even though there are signals, it means the cycleway is the main route and has the right of way.
When we pass the viaduct it is clear the entire cycleway was moved sideways (to the South, or to the left in the pictures) to make room for the light rail tracks. On the central boulevard the light-rail tracks will be built on what is now the bus lane. The Road to Science was widened at the expense of a green zone at the South side of the street. In the before situation a line of trees to the left was already removed. For the after situation it might be strange that there are large trees on the left hand side all of a sudden, but that line of large trees is formed by relocated trees. You can see they are all supported by white lines. Judging from the number of leaves they all survived the relocation so that is good news. On the right hand side a line of small trees was planted. The city wants this to be a very green road.
The strip of sand to the right is the location of the new light rail tracks. But the tracks will be on a grass strip in the end. So this will indeed be a very green road. Again to the right of the future tracks there are two lanes for motor traffic (almost invisible). No more and no less than in the before situation.
The main intersection with Platolaan/Weg naar Rhijnauwen has been changed too. In the before situation the cycle track bent out considerably. But that is not really needed because the cycleway and the carriageway are not next to each other anymore. There will be tracks in between, so the cycleway could be straightened out. In the before situation the signals were switched off outside peak hours. In that situation there was space for one car to wait out of the way of other traffic before entering the main road. It seems that in the new situation the signals will always be on so that space is no longer needed.
This is the location where the two routes to the city centre split. One of the routes goes to the right, and that is the reason for a dedicated right turning cycle lane at this intersection. There is (still) only one traffic light for both directions, but it seems logical that there will be two separate signals for people cycling once the light-rail will be in use. When there is a tram approaching the light for the right turning lane will have to be red. But people cycling straight-on could then have a green light.
The next picture shows the final part of the road. The full width between the two large lines of trees will soon be used for three types of traffic, from left to right: cycling, the light-rail tracks on a grass strip and two lanes for motor traffic. Only the light-rail tracks will have to be built, the rest of the street is already finished.
The final picture shows where I crossed the main carriageway to continue the route to the city centre on the other side. That was officially not allowed in the before situation. There was only a pedestrian crossing. That crossing has now been reconstructed to include both a pedestrian and a cycle crossing. Apparently more people cycled here and the city changed the crossing to accommodate that.
Video showing the before and after of a ride on Weg tot de Wetenschap (Road to Science)
So why does Utrecht build an expensive light-rail?
Today there are dedicated bus lanes from the city centre all the way to the University area. Double articulated buses (24 metres long) run every 2 to 3 minutes and carry 25,000 people daily. These buses get priority at intersections. When they approach an intersection all lights for other traffic switch to red, so the buses can pass quickly. But since buses pass every 2 to 3 minutes, that is already a heavy burden on the flow of other types of traffic.
The Utrecht Science Park is getting more important and the number of public transport passengers is expected to grow to 60,000 per day by 2020. It would be impossible to carry all those people by buses. The stream of buses would be endless and the priority of all those buses would cause other traffic to come to a full standstill.
That is why the city chose for a light-rail connection (after 30 years of debate!). The 7.5 kilometre long light-rail track from the main railway station to the university will be much more separate from other traffic than the bus lanes are, with only a few level crossings. The tram ride will take 17 minutes. Trams will be 65 metres long and they can carry up to 4 times the number of passengers a bus can. The trams will leave every 4 minutes and are expected to carry 45,000 passengers daily in the year 2020. This has a number of advantages. The trams are faster, cleaner, more quiet and more energy efficient than buses. The trams are supposed to be in use from January 2018, but there have been some problems with building permits. Building activities for one bridge were stopped by a court order. It is not known if and how this will affect the date the tram can be put into use.
It won’t really matter when the tram starts to ride for the over 12,000 people cycling on this road every day. For them the cycleway is already perfect again!