All about cycling in the Netherlands
Utrecht’s tiny Koekoekstraat (Cuckoo Street) is one of many places that has been transformed recently to give cycling more space. Yet another example that the city of Utrecht is serious in making the city better for people and declaring the bicycle to be the city’s most important type of transport wasn’t some hollow phrase.
I’ve said it before: “Utrecht is changing rapidly” and indeed so fast that I can barely keep up. This reconstructed street was already opened last summer, but I had so many other things to tell you that I can only now show you what has been done here. This is one of the smaller streets of the city’s reconstruction project. I’ve shown you very big transformations, such as the returned city moat and the upgrading of the former city ring road at ʼt Goylaan, mid-sized projects such as Maliesingel, Adriaen van Ostadelaan and Mariaplaats, and the much smaller streets of Domstraat and Twijnstraat. The Koekoekstraat, however, is a truly tiny street. At the beginning of the street the full width is only 7 metres (or just short of 23 Feet), while the second part of the street is exactly double that width: 14 metres. How are you going to make a street that narrow better for people without banning motor traffic? The only answer was to make it a cycle street and that is exactly what the city of Utrecht proposed to the residents.
Koekoekstraat used to be a through street with a lot of shops, but that was decades ago. Now it has become a residential street. You now mostly see living room curtains behind the former shop windows. The tiny street had a one-way system, also for cycling, and serves as one of the very few motor traffic exits out of the city centre. That meant the motor traffic volume could not really be reduced, but something had to be done.
The city motivated the need for change as follows:
To increase traffic safety (especially for cycling) and to make the street more liveable, the city proposed to make the street a cycle street, with the following (additional) measures:
In 2015, the city planned several community meetings, where residents and other stake holders got the opportunity to say something about the plans. But the decision that the street would become a cycle street was already taken. Expectations about the residents’ influence were further tempered by how the reconstruction was framed.
The city could be pleased, however, that – by and large – the residents were in favour of making the street a cycle street. The city then proposed some smaller and larger details that the residents could decide about. This included the location of trees in the wider part of the street, planters in the narrower part and possible “images” on the surface.
The minutes of the community meetings give an almost amusing insight into the evenings.
“The city representative informs that the narrower part of the street will get some planters. That part of the street is too narrow for trees. When planters are placed, residents must take care of their maintenance. That is not the case for the trees. ‘When there are people who do not want a planter in front of their home, they can be moved elsewhere’. The resident of house number 25 makes clear that he does not care for a planter in front of his house. ‘It will be a dirt collector, beer cans, cigarette butts and so on.’ He can live with it if a neighbour wants one. Another resident mentions that the smaller size of the planters will prevent that from happening. But the first resident insists that won’t make any difference: there will be cans and cigarettes. The city representative proposes to place the planter in front of house number 27 [right next door]. But the resident of number 25 doesn’t want any planters near his home.”
In the end (possibly because of this discussion) the number of planters was reduced in favour of extra bicycle parking. The street also got something special: images on the surface, at the request of the residents. The discussions about these images were quite elaborate and again somewhat amusing:
“The city representative says that the city is not against images on the road surface to emphasise the street’s safety, but experts doubt if it helps. Even so, such images on the asphalt can indeed be created. The material used is thermoplastic. That may, however, become somewhat slippery in wet weather. In addition, related to the material, the image cannot have too much detail. If images were to be placed they must be placed in the middle of the road. People cycling will otherwise navigate around them and there may also be some noise when cars drive over them. A resident says that the images were an idea to break the length of the street and at the same time they would influence the speed of car traffic. Another resident is a proponent of images; it will decrease the speeds. Yet another resident is also for a picture, but feels it must have something to do with the neighbourhood. The city representative promises to look into possible images. Maybe of children? One must bear in mind that the images must be of a fairly coarse design related to the material and maintenance. In addition to images, lines were also considered. Most of the residents are for images, despite possible objections like that they will become slippery in rain. A resident has an idea for the image. The word “Bicycle Street”, including the icon of a bicycle and below that the text “cars are guest”. The traffic expert notes that signs with such a text and image could work very well. They aren’t official traffic signs, but this is used more often on roads in the municipality. He shows an example. The image is a standard image, because the city wants to use the same symbols and signs throughout the city, to improve their recognisability. The residents understand that. It is repeated that the image on the road cannot be too detailed, but the city will consider the request. According to the residents who are present three large images on the road surface should be enough. Traffic users won’t be able to miss them. The city representative asks the crowd if it should be an image such as one of the residents has just suggested or maybe of a cuckoo? Unanimously the residents are of the opinion that the image of a bicycle would be better to emphasize that the street is a cycle street. The traffic expert notes that the image may not give the impression that the street is a cycle path, cars are allowed. Some of the residents can live with the standard traffic sign used for a cycle street. The city representative inquires if there are any other ideas now that there still is room for discussion. But the residents in the room want to decide at that moment. The city representative establishes that a majority of the attendees is in favour of the standard road sign for a cycle street and that the cuckoo is off. The standard image of the bicycle street where cars are guest is recognisable and already used in more parts of the city. This image can therefore not lead to confusion. The residents who are present in the hall agree.”
The reconstruction of the street was finished in the summer of 2016. Afterwards, the city of Utrecht has investigated how the street functions. It turned out that a large number of motorists drove too fast. Additional speed decreasing measures were therefore considered, but it was decided that a bit more time should be taken to let people get used to the decreased speed limit of 30km/h (was 50km/h). The residents generally like the new look of the street and one told a local news site that he was happy with the change of the street, that had been discussed for many years: “At last something changed! There is still too much motor traffic, which is also too noisy, but this is a start. In the near future, when there really is much less car traffic in the city centre, this cycle street will surely become a true cycle path. I would gladly welcome the expected ‘at least 3,000 cyclists a day’ in my street.”
A before and after comparison in this week’s video.