Tilburg is redeveloping its station area. Something that currently happens in many cities in the Netherlands. While the Dutch railways are modernising and restoring the 1960s Tilburg station building, the city is redeveloping the area right behind it; a former railway workshop for maintenance of train carriages and engines. That area, full of industrial heritage buildings, is becoming a new centre of urban life. To get there more easily, two extra underpasses were built to pass the raised railway line. One for pedestrians and one for cycling and walking.
The Tilburg railway station is used by 30,000 passengers a day at the moment. That number is expected to increase to over 40,000 people by the year 2020. It means an update to the building, and the area around it, was necessary. To improve access, two new railroad passing possibilities were created. The first one is for pedestrians only, it is located directly under the station building. This tunnel, with amenities for rail travellers, can also be used by non-travellers. A bit further to the east, directly connecting to Willem II-straat, a new passage for walking and cycling was built. Willem II-straat is a main route for people walking and cycling to reach Tilburg’s city centre. Motor traffic has to take a different route. Connecting the new passage to this street creates a valuable route away from the noise and pollution of the main car route. The passage is expected to be used by 8,000 people per day.
The area north of the station was never open to the public. The halls for train maintenance were only used by people working for the railways. Some of the vacant buildings have already been taken over by start-ups and some others have been converted into theatres and a hall for pop music. The city plans to convert the very large former engine hall into the main public library. Other buildings are expected to become bars, restaurants and offices. With the new access tunnel, opened in May 2016, the area can now really start to develop. The city published a very nice video with aerial images.
The Willem II-passage was named after King William II of the Netherlands, who was so very attached to Tilburg, that he even died there in 1849. The passage consists of several – very different – parts. The railway underpass is 13 metres wide and 3 metres high. It has separate parts for walking and cycling. The cycleway has a surface of red smooth asphalt, while the sidewalk has pavers of grey stone. The construction of this underpass started in 2013 and the project was finished in May 2016. To make the underpass also attractive and socially safe at night it has a work of art, consisting of 8,000 glass bricks, especially constructed for this wall. Behind these transparent glass bricks there are 14,000 LED lights to form an impressive light spectacle. Each LED light can be operated individually and the lights can respond to the presence of people walking and cycling. After you left the tunnel, the passage continues as a shared space and finally it takes you straight through some of the old industrial buildings.
To make sure the underpass can be used safely by as many people as possible, the city of Tilburg involved a society for the interests of people with disabilities already in the planning stage. The society’s main concerns involved the incline, the paving materials and the lighting of the underpass. The choice of stone pavers for the sidewalk was a particular concern. Before the tunnel was built, the society was able to test the paving material with people in wheelchairs and those who use a stroller. The pavers proved much more smooth than they look and, since they are set in cement, the society felt reassured that the pavers will remain as smooth as they are now. The gentle slopes into the underpass were also approved. The society does still miss some tactile guidance for people with reduced eye sight. Lastly, the society was not very happy with the fact that the footpath and the cycleway change places about halfway through the passage in the shared space area. This was something that immediately struck me too.
The passage was designed by The Cloud Collective. Which – according to their website – is “a co-operation of companies and individuals that are active within the fields of spatial design and architecture”, traffic engineering is apparently not their main focus. Switching the place of walking and cycling halfway into the passage may make the route more interesting from a design perspective, it certainly makes it less safe. This really wasn’t necessary and it makes the passage less perfect in my opinion. Not something that couldn’t be fixed though. You can still change the location of people walking and cycling in the underpass, by changing the paving again. Some of the paving doesn’t seem to be final anyway. There are still a lot of tiles on the cycleway right in front and right after the passage. What I also disliked were the four bollards on the north entrance to the passage. Especially in combination with a big white-painted area that you are officially not allowed to cycle over. The bollards are useless in stopping traffic too. Motor traffic could use the sidewalk to pass the bollards easily. Get rid of them, I would say! Some alterations can still take place.
The light-wall has not been entirely programmed yet. The illuminated glass bricks, capable of displaying interactive patterns with LED lights, which can be individually controlled, brick by brick, should help to improve the perception of safety, especially during the darker hours. The light patterns can be influenced by movement sensors in the underpass. The city and the designers organise a workshop in September, where people are invited to participate in working out the details of the “endless possibilities” of this work of art.
My video about the new Tilburg passage.
In this second video I show how you ride the entire passage from both ends.