Yet another street in the Utrecht city centre has been reconstructed. The narrow Twijnstraat, already a shopping street in the 13th century, was designed for motor traffic. It has been transformed into a street for walking and cycling. Almost all customers, 96%, arrive on foot or by bike, but the street was tailored for the 4% arriving by car. That was ridiculous and it has been corrected.
Over a thousand years ago Twijnstraat started its life as a road on the shore of the river Rhine. Now it is a flourishing shopping street. Very narrow (ranging from 6 to 13 metres in width) and about 200 metres long. There are houses and stores on each side of the street and on the former river side, now the Oudegracht (Old Canal), there are even two rows of buildings. The extra row of houses on the water front can only be reached on foot, by 4 narrow alley ways. The slopes of these alleys towards the water remind us that this truly was a river shore. When Utrecht was granted city rights in the year 1122, the city wall was planned to include the city centre (around Dom square), but also this flourishing trade centre around Twijnstraat. It is the reason that Utrecht has a rectangular shape, rather than the more circular shape that was common for cities at the time.
The Utrecht mediaeval city centre has a maze of smaller streets and houses. From the central Dom tower of the cathedral, every part of the city centre can be reached within 10 minutes, on foot! Despite this city scape the people in the 1950s and 60s decided that the centre had to be opened up for motor traffic. That meant that people walking and cycling lost ever more space to the private car. This tendency had slowly been reversed a long time ago, but just a few years ago, the council officially reversed that decision. Utrecht has now chosen to make the public space in the city centre first and foremost the domain of pedestrians and cycling. It needs to become a pleasant place, where it is nice to stay. This increases the value of that space and the economic vitality. Slowly but steadily the city centre is handed back to people, by subsequent street transformations. (Three earlier examples.) Motor traffic can still reach most destinations in this part of the city, but drivers must behave as guests in an environment that was not designed for their needs.
The Twijnstraat had a 4-metre-wide traffic lane. Only to be used by motor traffic in one direction. For cycling there was a counter cycle lane. This counter cycle lane made cycling possible in both directions. Drainage grates were located in the middle of the traffic lane, posing a danger, especially to cycling. The street had 15 parking bays for private cars and 1 for people with a disability. No less than 97 metres (almost half the length of the street) was designated as loading zones. About 60 metres of the street was used for bicycle parking. The sidewalks ranged in width from just 1 to 2 metres. These narrow sidewalks were extremely cluttered with posts (lamp posts and a lot of traffic sign posts), bollards and a lot of “stuff” the shop keepers put outside their shops. These many posts were also used to park bicycles against.
In close collaboration with the entrepreneurs and the residents of the street, the city described a desired future situation. It would like the Twijnstraat to be an attractive city street in the centre of Utrecht, where people stroll the wider sidewalks. The number of objects on the sidewalk, that shop owners put there, will be drastically reduced. By hanging the lamps from the facades and by reducing the number of signs, the number of posts will also be drastically reduced. Both measures are taken to increase the space for walking. The many people cycling will share the narrower traffic lane with fewer private cars as well as delivery vehicles. Parking will mostly be relocated to other areas. This goes for motor vehicles and bicycles. Short term bicycle parking will take place in designated squares in the street itself. (Especially for shoppers.) Residents will park their bicycles in a neighbourhood bicycle parking facility. Other longer term bicycle parking will be done in racks in the side street. To improve safety for cycling, the drainage grates will be placed in the gutter.
Not everything of the desired end situation has been achieved yet. Some of the wishes are for the longer term and will only become a reality when the whole area is reconstructed. But a lot has been done in the reconstruction in the spring of 2016. The shop owners and residents celebrated the re-opening with a street party on 25th June 2016.
- The width of the sidewalks has increased to 1.8 to 2 metres.
- The traffic lane has been narrowed to 3.5 metres (north part) or kept at 4 metres (south part)
- the counter cycle lane has been removed. (No longer necessary and cycling remains permitted in both directions.)
- The sidewalks have been de-cluttered as much as possible.
- Lamp posts were replaced by lighting fixtures attached to the buildings.
- Over 30 traffic signs were removed.
- The lower (5 cm) kerbs (curbs) make it easier to cross the streets where you like.
- Flush crossings were created for people with disabilities or those pushing strollers.
- Short term bicycle parking was clustered in squares on the pavement.
- Bicycle parking racks were relocated to the side street.
- Delivery bays were rearranged.
- The number of parking bays was reduced.
- The maximum parking time was reduced to make parking available for short time parking to visit a shop.
Several measures can (or should) be taken in future
- Planting one tree
- Improving access routes to the street, for walking and cycling
- Creating an indoor bicycle parking facility for residents.
- Relocating (motor traffic) parking places to alternative locations, and use the space for possibly increased volumes of walking and cycling
- Reducing the motor traffic volume further. Possibly by changing the driving direction, introducing a smaller electric bus, introducing window times for deliveries, the cargohopper or a dynamic closing of the street.
The video shows a before and after of this street’s reconstruction. Because it is such a short street I show you the rides twice. Once with the before situation in a larger size and once with the after situation in a larger size. So you can appreciate the differences better.
Video showing a ride in the street before and after the reconstruction.