All about cycling in the Netherlands
Utrecht has recently upgraded several main cycle routes in the city. In this post I show you the largest part of the route alongside Merwedekanaal. It is part of a much longer provincial route, but in the city it runs from the municipal border to Nieuwegein formed by the Amsterdam – Rhine Canal in the south-west to the municipal border to Maarssen in the north-west. The entire route in the city is almost 10 kilometres long of which I cycled almost 7 kilometres for the video (below).
This is one of six routes which were upgraded to modern standards between 2012 and 2015. The council decision to do this was already taken in 2002 and Utrecht’s ambitions were explained in the report ‘Verder met de fiets’ (‘Further with the bicycle’; which in Dutch can mean further in distance and further in time with improved policies). With these upgraded routes the city aims to get people to cycle more often. Note, that it is not necessary to get people cycling, almost everyone already does in the Netherlands, but to get them to cycle more often, because that can still make a difference, even in this country. It would reduce CO2 emissions and thus improve the air quality in the city. This post focuses on the ‘purple route’ on the map below, running north to south in the west of the city. I doubt many people will cycle the entire route and thus traverse Utrecht. But it is very likely that people will cycle part of the route. There are many connections to very popular destinations that you can easily reach from this main route.
The route alongside the canal was updated in stages. The north part on Keulsekade (“Cologne Quay”) first. There was one big obstacle here that had to be eliminated. A bridge (Spinozabrug) over the canal and especially its access ramps formed a barrier to cycling. You had to cycle wide around the bridge’s entrance ramps. To be able to cross the bridge more easily, the north access ramp got a cycle tunnel. This tunnel was built in one weekend! A video from the city shows how the bridge was closed on a Friday in May 2014 at 9pm, to be opened again the following Monday morning at 3am. In the meantime the tunnel had been constructed. Finishing took longer, but that could be done without interfering with other traffic. The tunnel was finally opened in November 2014.
With that obstacle out-of-the-way the rest of Keulsekade could be updated. The entire length got red asphalt and the former two-way street was made one-way for motor traffic and it became a so-called cycle street. That means car traffic should behave as guest, while cycle traffic has priority. In the first plan all on-street parking for cars was to be removed. Parking is not allowed on a cycle street, except when there are separate parking bays. So didn’t the residents object? Yes they did. A published report with complaints shows that people were opposed to the one-way regulation because that would force them to make a detour. The city convinced these people that the one-way regime was necessary for the safety of cycling. Because of the complaints, the city created one extra exit for cars, which reduced the detour to only a couple of hundred metres. The parking issue got solved in a peculiar way. The residents of the house boats in the canal were willing to let their gardens on the shore be turned into parking bays. But the video reveals that that didn’t happen after all. Instead, every house boat got one parking bay right in front of it at the other side of the street. That settled the matter. Complaints that this solution didn’t solve the parking problems for visitors were simply dismissed. No one forces guests to arrive by car after all. The complaints from the residents about the red colour of the asphalt were also dismissed. Some claimed the red asphalt wouldn’t go well with the historic and monumental look of the street. Considering that the same people also fought to keep the car parking makes that sound rather inconsistent to say the least. The city dismissed this complaint as well, saying that the comfort for cycling on a main cycle route outweighs complaints about cosmetics.
Finally, people feared that such a fine and wide cycle route would attract more noisy and smelly scooters and mopeds, with a specific type of youth using those mopeds, who would hang out in the streets bothering residents. It is amazing how hated mopeds are in the Netherlands, yet there still is no regulation to send them off the cycle routes! Therefore the city had to answer that it can do nothing to prevent mopeds and scooters using the cycle routes (yet).
The south part of the route, Kanaalweg (“Canal Road”), was updated in the first half of 2015. There are far fewer residents in this part so there weren’t many objections here.
People did express concern that the route would not get a pedestrian area everywhere, especially since a designated ‘joggers-route’ takes this route as well. But the city said that the 5 metre wide cycle street would be enough to allow shared use by people cycling, walking (running) and the incidental motor vehicle. Where there is more motor traffic the route runs on a separated bi-directional cycleway. This is the case on Winthontlaan. A separated cycleway had already been there, but it was resurfaced with smooth red asphalt and it was widened to 3.5 metres, according to the CROW recommendations for a main cycle route. Some people opposed to the bollards, especially to a whole row of bollards that were placed at several locations. The city responded that here too, the latest recommendations were followed, meaning that there is a 1.6 metre gap between the bollards. That is what is on paper anyway, reality seems a different matter. There are quite a few rows of bollards in this route, particularly around the many bridges. I doubt any of those rows of bollards really has gaps of at least 1.6 metres between them. Considering how many one-sided accidents happen in this country, with people cycling and bollards, this is really something that should be studied and changed if necessary.
Almost all crossings with other main routes are grade separated. I have included a picture of every single one of the multi-level crossings. In the entire route there is only one level crossing where cycling doesn’t have priority and that is at the crossing with Van Zijstweg. This is a major bus route that has yet to be updated. The city is currently making a plan that is expected to become public in the first quarter of 2016. It was already agreed that the intersection will be updated to the sustainable safety principles. That means it will have to look quite different from what it is today. With a much bigger and better refuge island between the motor traffic lanes to name just one current problem.
Considering you traverse a big part of Utrecht on this route, it is a very fast route. I cycled the 6.8 kms in almost 18 minutes. That means I had an average speed of 22.7 km/h (14.1 mph) even though it felt like a leisurely pace. Only one (rolling) stop makes all the difference. You can reach high average speeds on Dutch cycling infrastructure because you can cycle almost non-stop. There is no need to speed.
So what does the route look like? See for yourself in the long video and the pictures in this post.
Long video of the entire route in real-time.
6.8 kms in 18 minutes, or an average speed of 22.7 km/h (14.1 mph).