Utrecht straightens out a cycle route

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.

The central divider has been removed and replaced by a dotted line. The full width of the cycleway can now be used.

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 red asphalt continues on the intersection itself now.

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.

The cycleway was straightened out here. The chicane has been completely removed.

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 cycleway was moved sideways here (to the left) to make room for the future light-rail tracks on the right hand side. Trees were moved here (left) and planted here (right).

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.

At this intersection the cycleway was straightened out as well and also widened. Note the dedicated right-turning lane for cycling.

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 foundation for the light rail tracks is under construction here. But the rest of the street has already been finished.

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.

This crossing has been expanded. From pedestrian crossing only to a combined pedestrian and cycle crossing.

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)

A rendering of the continuation of the road shows how the light-rail line will look in the landscape. Only here the carriageway is in between the cycleway and the light-rail tracks. Everything else will look very similar.

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.

The route of the light-rail line in the city of Utrecht.

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!

7 thoughts on “Utrecht straightens out a cycle route

  1. A little off topic (as is becoming the norm for me on this blog), but this Streetsblog article includes some information from Dan Goodman of the Federal Highway Administration in which he states the FHWA is working on a guide for protected bikeway installation in the U.S:


    In paragraph 11, of the article, Mr. Goodman states that that in many cases its hard to take a definitive stand on different design treatments because there is simply no data that backs up one design over another.

    Mark, is there data to back up the design treatments for bike paths or cycle paths along busy urban corridors in the Netherlands? Perhaps this is not written in English and therefore traffic engineers outside of the Netherlands aren’t aware of this information.

  2. Regarding your last picture at the T-crossing at the end of the Weg tot de Wetenschap in front of the football stadium, it may be good to mention that, although in the old situation that crossing was now allowed for cyclists, the bidirectional cycle path did continue on the other side of the road. Also, there was at that time still a one-directional cycle path on the other side of the Weg tot de Wetenschap connecting up with the path that shows in the last moments of your video. There were plenty of options, even then, see http://goo.gl/maps/pxvih, which by the looks of it, is from a few years back.

  3. Mark, you may recall under your article about riding to the dentist that I posted a video made by someone riding west along most of the 12.9 kilometer long original Orange Line mixed use path, which runs parallel to a dedicated roadway for bus rapid transit in the city of Los Angeles.

    Well, the same person made another video while riding a bicycle heading north along the approximate 6.3 kilometer extension of the Orange Line mixed use path which opened in June of 2012.

    This has the similarity to the Utrecht bicycle path of having a major transit line and roadway paralleling in close proximity to the path.

    The sound you hear in the video of propeller airplanes is from an airshow at some airport in a different location and not from riding on the path.

    The video starts off where the other video ended, heading west along the original path that was completed in 2005.

    Just like bicycles using a bike lane are mixed with motor vehicles as the intersection is approached, the path mixes pedestrians and bicycles as an intersection is approached. You gotta hand it to the traffic engineers for being consistent in their approach to design whether its for a path or a street. Even when there is room to keep the bicycles and pedestrians separate through the intersection, the engineers decided to mix them together. Evidently, there is no standard procedure for designing for bicycles through the intersection. At least that’s my presumption on why the engineers in LA never do intersection treatments for bicycles.

    There are no bicycle specific signals at any of the intersections.

    Turning right at the end of the original bike path at 0:26, the rider heads north by first crossing the entrance to the busway, rides along a sidewalk and crosses a driveway for a parking lot for the busway.

    At every major crossing there is a traffic officer wearing a yellow vest and a white hat. They were there most of the day for two weeks before the busway opened to try and train drivers to obey the no left/right turn signals that are activated when either a bus is approaching or the manually operated pedestrian walk signal is activated. The buses you see are doing test runs, the busway had not yet opened.

    After the first major street named Vanowen is crossed the mixed use path begins.

    Shortly after that the path crosses a bridge with low height walls that goes over the LA river.

    From the LA river until Saticoy he is riding past the second highest bicycle commuting mode share in the city of Los Angeles at 17.7%, measured by a Census Bureau population tract in the city of Los Angeles. These are mostly lower income people males who mainly use a bicycle to just get from point A to B.

    By the larger geographical area of the postal zip code this area has a 4.1% bicycle commuting modal share of about 545 bicycle commuters. Which is the third highest for the city.

    At Sherman Way, the rider goes straight and then turns right riding along a sidewalk before turning left to continue riding along the path. He should have turned right before crossing the intersection in order to avoid using the sidewalk. Since the path markings disappear as the intersections are approached, its easy to see why the rider went the wrong direction to cross the intersection.

    Because this corridor was originally designed to be a railroad right-of-way there are few minor streets that cross it.

    There is an increasing incline as the rider gets closer to the hill that you can see in the distance.

    The Los Angeles department of transportation had asked for suggestions by bicyclists of what should be improved of the original Orange Line path design for the upcoming path extension. I and another bicycle rider stated that having to hit the pedestrian walk button at every intersection was annoying and disruptive to the riders and that the ramps to and from the street were small and not usually centered to ride straight across the street. Unfortunately, the intersection designs of the extension are similarly pedestrian oriented like the original path. The narrow ramps are usually out of arms reach to the pedestrian walk signal buttons.

    The wall to the right of the path that starts at about 10:28 is for a gradual incline of the busway leading to a bridge at 11:47 that takes the buses over a heavy rail line.

    Where the rider stops just short of Lassen is where the Orange Line path ends. There is another bike path that parallels a creek as you head further north starting on the other side of Lassen just past the bridge.

    This video demonstrates the hierarchy of transportation in Los Angeles.

    The main focus of the construction was on the busway. The path was built by the same construction company after the busway was completed and only because there was extra room left over,

    The Metropolitan Transit Authority contributed most of the money towards the path and the city kicked in the rest.

    The no left/right turn signals were installed at intersections purely to reduce bus/private motor vehicle collisions. Having a pedestrian/bicycle path nearby that benefits from this safety feature was coincidental.

    There is a bike path which goes through a park that was used to connect the east and west portions of the original Orange Line path. This is located further away from the Orange Line busway. There wasn’t any no left/right traffic signals installed at intersections there because these posed no danger to the operation of the busway.

  4. Nicely done! Looks like a well executed high volume route, where problems that look minor with lower volumes (waiting space for right side turns) can become a major problem.

    About your last comment: It would certainly matter to them. Most of them will not cycle every day, but use public transport occasionally. When they have a flat tire, when it’s raining hard, or for some other reason.

    The existence of a well functioning public transport system is a requirement for a high modal share of cycling. Especially students, who currently don’t perceive the ‘need’ for a car, are relying on both systems simultaneously.

    I also think it’s interesting to note that the buses carry 25000 people, vs 15000 by bike. Are these metrics comparable? Would this mean that on a specific point along the route, more people are passing by bus than by bike, or are bus passengers counted differently?

    1. On that specific point there are more public transport passengers then cyclists as a consequence of highly concentrated public transport and having six different entrance points to Utrecht Science Park for cyclists. The one in this video is by far the most used entry. At the second (more or less) parallel entry point another 5.000 to 10.000 cyclists pass by.

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