Think about your living room, chances are you change it completely every 15 to 20 years. Because you need a wider sofa for the expanding family, or because you rightfully think that table has had its best years. Maybe the extra big seat for granddad is sadly not needed anymore. Of course, things can’t always be perfect: you have a budget to consider and it is not so easy to change the walls. Replacing things does give you the opportunity to correct earlier mistakes and to get the things which are more useful now. While you are at it, you can also match the colours and materials better again. Our cities are not so different from our living rooms. Just as families grow and later decrease in size again when the children leave the house, the modal share of the different types of traffic users changes over the years. These shifting modal shares warrant changes to the street design. So you may need some extra space where it was not necessary before, but if you see less and less of a certain type of traffic, its space can be reallocated to other road users.
You could see Vondellaan in Utrecht as one such “living room” in a city that changed over the years. It has recently been upgraded to the latest needs of the people using it now. With a lot more space for cycling and a bit less for motor traffic. The latest colours and materials have been used: smooth red asphalt in the case of the cycleways. This wasn’t the first time changes were made to this street. If you look at old photos you can trace what the needs and fashions of days gone by were. A picture of the 1950s shows people cycling using the full width of the roadway. By the 1960s that roadway was no longer safe enough to allow that, with the increased motor traffic volumes. Cycleways had been added for the fewer people cycling at that time, but junctions had not been changed yet. Starting in the 1970s, the patchwork of separated cycleways and other types of cycling infrastructure began to be connected with junctions which were also designed for cycling. That design wasn’t perfect from the start. Pictures from 1980, 1998 and 2015 show how one such T-junction was changed several times. The protected intersection went through some stages, but having learned by trial and error, the design we see now is one that fits the present “family” best. That goes for the entire space. The street design has straight lines, in clear colours and the street is divided to give a dedicated space to every type of user, taking into account how many of these users you will see at this particular location.
Vondellaan is part of one of the main cycle routes in Utrecht which all have been upgraded recently. I have shown you the route alongside a canal earlier, but I have already filmed other updates, so more posts are planned. The route I show in this post leads from Zuilen past the centre to Lunetten and further to Houten. This particular part of the route follows the railway in the direction of Houten. This railway line was doubled in size recently and even more tracks were added right here for a new railway station, that will be opened at the end of 2016. When you consider parking all kinds of vehicles and access for many people to be able to reach that new railway station, it becomes clear that it requires a lot of changes to the cityscape around it. Since ProRail was already expanding the railway and building the new station, the city of Utrecht commissioned ProRail to also reconstruct Vondellaan and Baden-Powellweg, so all the works could be coordinated better. The streets were completely reconstructed from the foundation up and from façade to façade. The result is a street with a clear route for cycling, with at the same time many types of the current best practice in cycleway and protected junction design. The street can almost serve as a sample book of modern Dutch street design. The videos show just five minutes of cycling both ways and in those five minutes you can see a left turn on a protected intersection, several other protected intersections (both four-arm intersections and T-junctions) and exit constructions (side streets, as well as driveways). The first video even ends on a Fietsstraat (cycle street). There are mono-directional and bi-directional cycleways, but even with all these different types of infrastructure in such a short stretch, the ride still feels as one continuous route. That is what makes modern Dutch cycling infrastructure so good. It is designed as one route, not as a collection of random parts per street. A range of solutions, tailor-made for specific situations, yet one clear, easily recognisable and continuous design.
The ride going south-east (the red line).
The ride going north-west (the green line).
Below, a number of aerial pictures from the 3D option in Apple Maps, to further show the updated infrastructure.