All about cycling in the Netherlands
Even in the Netherlands decision makers and planners must often be reminded that the needs for people cycling should be taken into account when major infrastructure is to be reconstructed. This is something that is also done by the Fietsersbond (Cyclists’ Union) and their many volunteers across the country. Work that usually takes place behind the screens and that is therefore hard to visualise on my blog. But then I was invited by the Vught chapter of the Cyclists’ Union to join in a cycle tour to visit points of concern in the major road and railway reconstruction that will take place in their town. That offered a great opportunity to show how this works and so I gladly took it.
Vught is a small town just south of ʼs-Hertogenbosch. It is divided by two railway lines and two major roads that form enormous barriers for the town. Especially the rail road that runs north to south on ground level is a particular concern. Many level crossings exist, but because of future plans with this rail road everything needs to change. The Netherlands’ railways expect 400 trains to pass Vught daily by 2020 because of the high frequency rail transport programme. That would mean that the level crossings would have to be closed for so long and so often that it would become very hard for people in the town to cross that railway line at all. That is why in the years to come big changes need to be made. There were many alternatives thought up, but recently a below grade railway line through the town with road crossings over that lowered line was thought to be the most effective measure. Even though that will cost the national government 125 million Euro more than a line at grade. Expensive, but lowering a railway line that is in use in a densely built up area is not so easy. Especially where that railway line is now running over a below grade motorway that needs to go over that railway in future.
The A65 (called N65 where it is not a motorway) runs from Vught to Tilburg and where it is not a motorway it also runs on ground level through Vught. The crossings are already unacceptably dangerous and so that part of the road needs to become a motorway as well. The reconstruction of that road will be coordinated with the reconstruction of the railway.
The costs of these two projects are huge. The railway (just at this location) may cost anything between 300 and 500 million Euro and the road between 68 to 93 million Euro depending on which of the many alternative solutions will be chosen. The actual building in these projects is projected from 2020 to 2025 for the railway and from 2021 to 2024 for the road. So why are we already talking about this now?
That is because the plans are now in the stage that things can still be taken into account that may have been overlooked initially. In a later stage things will already have been planned so detailed and money will already have been allocated to specific parts of the projects, which would make changes much harder to make.
Now was the time to act on things in the plan that may work out less good for people cycling. So the local chapter of the Cyclists’ Union organised a cycle tour to visit these points of concern. That the 40 year old Cyclists’ Union is a respected organisation was reflected in the fact that people of all backgrounds joined the ride: local council members, provincial council members, cycle planners of both Vught and neighbouring ʼs-Hertogenbosch, representatives of Rijkswaterstaat, the department of the Ministry of Transport responsible for building the road and representatives of ProRail (who will be building the railway) so both politicians as well as planners. They rode together with members of the Cyclists’ Union and also the general public was invited. The tour got attention in the local newspapers, but it was not just a local event. The director of the Cyclists’ Union had come from Utrecht and also the representatives of Rijkswaterstaat and ProRail had to come from other cities. All these people, about 40 in total, were welcomed by the departing alderman for traffic of the municipality of Vught at the railway station.
The tour then went to the problem areas and it was good that the decision makers and planners actually experienced a cycle detour their plans would create. Closing a road on a map is easy, but experiencing the 500 metres or so detour on your bike and seeing what kind of a ride that is, with extra crossings, that is quite something else. But the Cyclists’ Union was not only pointing out problem areas, it offered good solutions for these problems and there were also some new opportunities in the plans that the planners had maybe not seen yet. Because the railway will run at a slightly different location there will be space for a new high speed cycle route right next to it. This is a long-standing wish in the different municipalities that the railway runs through.
The locations of the crossings with the future motorway were also visited. It is not yet sure whether that motorway will also be lowered or whether it will stay on ground level. That makes a lot of difference for the crossings and the Cyclists’ Union took this opportunity to give its view on the matter.
My video shows how the Cyclists’ Union tries to make sure
cycling gets enough attention in large infrastructure plans
The tour ended in a restaurant. After a short re-cap the participants could then further discuss some details of the plans over a drink. The local chapter did a very good job in organising this tour. I have shown you other examples of their work before. There was a tour with some elderly and a tour to ask for attention to road surfaces. But in this tour particularly they managed to get the right people to see the right things. The plans for these two huge projects will materialise further in the coming years. That cycling will get the attention it deserves in the plans should be secured now. Although the Cyclists’ Union will have to watch closely as the plans and the projects progress in the years to come.