All about cycling in the Netherlands
It was very clear: hundreds of people had had the same idea: let’s try out the new cycleway alongside the new canal. So the first Sunday it was open, the route was very busy with people cycling and walking. The new canal runs between ʼs-Hertogenbosch and Rosmalen (which is also part of the ʼs-Hertogenbosch municipality) and it has a beautiful cycleway running alongside of it, all the way.
The new canal replaces a canal that runs right through the historic city centre of ʼs-Hertogenbosch. That canal – to bypass the part of the river Meuse, that could not be used well by ships – was opened in 1826 and it had brought the city great prosperity. It was named after King Willem I, who decided this canal had to be built: Zuid-Willemsvaart (“South-William’s Canal”). The canal is 125km long and starts in Liège. That is now a city in Belgium, but at the time it was part of the ‘United Kingdom of the Netherlands’, which included the entire Benelux; present-day Belgium, Netherlands and Luxemburg. The canal ended at ʼs-Hertogenbosch, from where the Meuse could be used much better.
Already in 1983 the government had decided that the old canal had to be upgraded for modern class IV ships. One class IV ship, with containers stacked in three layers, can replace 100 heavy goods vehicles (HGV’s) and that would reduce congestion and it would also be better for the environment. In the city, however, the canal was only 7 metres wide. For class IV ships it would need to be more than six times as wide! But since it was running through the dense old city centre, there was no way to widen it there. It took the government 10 years to figure that out and in 1993 a procedure started to see what the environmental impacts of this canal would be. That was also the year I started working for the Commission for Environmental Assessment, so I have followed this procedure not only as a resident, but also from my work perspective, for over 20 years now. It is the first time I can link to my work-site from this personal site. All the investigations and the entire decision making process took until October 2011, when a final decision by the minister of Transport was taken (and later approved by the highest court). Some of the preparing measures had already started, so right away the digging could start. Three years later, the new canal was ready to be used by ships, in December 2014. In the mean time, the canal further south was widened at it’s original location, because it was possible to do that without a bypass there.
As is usual in the Netherlands, when we create a bypass, the original route can no longer be used. The locks in the old-canal and the bridges will no longer be operated. So that forces (even the smaller) ships to use the new bypass. Because the old canal will not be removed, the bypass canal got a new name. It was named after our present queen: Máximakanaal and she had the honour to open it herself on 5 March last. That day most of the cycleway was also opened. The canal is 9 kilometres long and the cycleway will be 7.6 kilometres long. I can tell you that so precisely because the cycleway has hectometre signs alongside of it, so you can see exactly how long it is and how far you already cycled. The first part is not entirely finished yet.
Máxima Canal Facts
Length 9km, width 46.5 metres, depth 4.2 metres. (5.6M/152.5Ft/13.8Ft)
2 locks to overcome a 2.7 metre level change (8.9Ft)
Time for the locks to close and open again is 10 minutes
8 bridges, one of which is combined for motor traffic, trains and cycling
Bridges are constructed so ships can be 7 metres tall (23Ft)
Class IV ships: 105m long, 9.5m wide, 3m draught (344.5Ft/31.2Ft/9.8Ft)
There were some problems to overcome during the construction of the canal, one of which was a leak. The first kilometre of the canal had to be re-sealed because too much water seeped to the (lower lying) fields alongside of it. Where that fault had to be remedied the cycleway is now not ready yet. There won’t be a road alongside of the canal, only a cycleway. Cycleroutes that do not follow a road are always bi-directional, so that is also the case here. Since this cycleway is nowhere near a road to distinguish it from, the cycleway does not have to be red. That is the reason the smooth asphalt surface is black.
The canal forms a new barrier in the landscape, so new crossing possibilities had to be created. A total of 8 similar looking bridges were constructed. One for trains and 7 that can be used by cars. All but one of the bridges can be used for cycling. Only the motorway A59 bridge has no cycleway. But right under that bridge people can cycle over the lock, so there are still 8 possibilities to cross the new canal when you cycle (or walk). There are two locks in the new canal, one at either end, at Hintham and Empel.
The city of ʼs-Hertogenbosch had wanted to build one cycle bridge at normal street level. So people would not have to cycle up the 7 metre tall bridge at that location. But Rijkswaterstaat (the governmental body constructing the canal) was opposed to bridges that had to be opened for ships and they got it their way in the end. That means the only place where you do not have to cycle up a large bridge is at the south lock near Hintham. Because of its location, I think that will be a well-used crossing for people cycling from the village of Berlicum to ʼs-Hertogenbosch. Among others, a lot of school children will use that route and they will not have to cycle up a tall bridge.
The canal is now finished, but the landscaping around it is not. Many trees are being planted (one for every tree that had to be removed) and a large park along the entire canal will be constructed. In the video it all looks very barren and sandy, but that will change soon enough. Given the soil and our climate, it will be green in just a couple of months.
Video real-time version (17:15 minutes)
Video sped-up version. (4:35 minutes)
The province of North-Brabant announced in the local paper of Monday 16th March 2015, that there is more good news regarding the canal and cycling. From about the starting point of the cycle route of this post, further south along the widened original canal, a cycle path will be built as well! That will make cycling in an almost straight line possible from ʼs-Hertogenbosch (aka Den Bosch) to Veghel (about 15 kilometres). The cycleway will be 4 metres wide and it will have a surface of smooth asphalt. The only reason why it cannot officially be called a “fast cycle route” is that this route will not be lit at night, at least not entirely. That is not possible, because it would disturb wildlife in a nature reserve that the path runs past. This new cycleway, announced now, will already be finished by the end of 2015. That is possible because there already is a (private) maintenance path for the canal, that only has to be surfaced with asphalt to make it suitable for cycling.