The busiest cycleway in the Netherlands

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The guided tour season is at its peak right now. With Velo-City 2017 rapidly approaching the first groups are already arriving in the country. The associate professor from Platteville-Wisconsin, whose group I gave a tour last week, is staying for the conference and a group of Australians has just arrived this weekend. I gave them a presentation last Sunday night and I will give them a guided tour in Utrecht this coming Thursday. I saw a few people in this group in different cities in Australia when I was there last March. The group specifically asked me to show them Vredenburg at rush hour. The word has spread that Vredenburg is part of the Netherlands’ busiest cycle route. On an average working day, some 32,000 people pass here on a bicycle. On one single occasion the city counted 37,000! I decided to go there last week, to prepare the tour and to remind myself what that is like when so many people pass in rush hour.

It’s busy on Vredenburg in Utrecht during the evening rush hour in late spring.

Just six weeks ago, at the end of April, we still had very cold and wet weather. On a Thursday in a school holiday Anders Swanson from Canada also went to Vredenburg and he bravely counted traffic for one entire hour with the CounterPoint App. Even under those conditions he counted almost 4,000 people passing on their bicycles. Anders’ comment: “The hardest traffic count I’ve ever done. Rain, wind, hail… ~4K bikes/hr.”.

The results of Anders Swanson’s traffic count on a cold April day in a school holiday. 3,788 people cycling in one hour.
Counting traffic on Vredenburg in Utrecht was an exceptional experience!

When I went last Wednesday, a normal working day outside school holidays and with a temperature of 25 degrees, I think I could have counted a whole lot more people cycling. But I was glad I didn’t have to do that! Instead I was only filming!

In 1954 buses and people on bikes still had to use the same road space at Vredenburg in Utrecht. (Picture Utrechts Archief)
At the exact same location – 63 years later – we can see that buses and cycling are now kept separate. The cycleway was constructed here in 1962 as an extended busstop bypass. The cycleways stopped at either end of the street, right before the intersections. That is now also different!
The construction of the separated cycleways took place in February 1962. (Picture Utrechts Archief). The eastbound cycleway is already finished (left), the westbound cycleway (right) is under construction.

This is the main east-west route in Utrecht. It has always seen a lot of cycling. A traffic count from 1925 reveals that almost a century ago 12,000 cyclists per day passed this point. At that time Utrecht was a city of only 140,000 people. There was no cycling infrastructure at all in those days. Protected cycling infrastructure only arrived in 1962, when the city was transforming the city centre streets for the expected increase in motor traffic. At the same time the street got two bus lanes and four motor traffic lanes (two in each direction) and – surprise, surprise – that really made the volume of motor traffic grow. Later in the 1960s bus drivers complained that especially on the shopping Saturdays they couldn’t get in and out of their dedicated bus lanes to get to the bus stops. Traffic wardens had to control the flow of traffic to especially the parking lot on Vredenburg. When an underground parking garage was opened directly under the square in the early 1970s the entrance was moved to a different location and motor traffic was mostly banned from Vredenburg. One lane for motor traffic going east was all that was left here.

The start of the eastbound cycleway in 1964. Most of the video was filmed from the exact same location looking in the same direction. There is a bi-directional cycleway here now. (Picture Utrechts Archief)
The only remaining lane for private motor traffic (eastbound) was separate from the bus lanes and the cycleways. The cycleways were one-way on either side of the street at that time and had a surface of tiles. Picture from circa 1982, Utrechts Archief.

Vredenburg is no longer accessible to cars. The East-West corridor (including Potterstraat) was closed to private motor traffic in 1996, after successful experiments of closing the streets on Saturdays had taken place from 1991. “That one car lane was immediately turned into a cycleway” tells me Hugo van der Steenhoven, former director of the Cyclists’ Union, who was alderman for the environment and traffic in Utrecht at the time. This street is now only used by buses, (an incredibly high number of them!) by pedestrians and it is part of the busiest route for cycling of the entire city and country. It is quite incredible to see when you are interested in traffic. Most of the Dutch are not impressed though. They just want to go home quickly after work and cycling is often simply the fastest and most convenient way to get home in Utrecht.

Traffic lining up for either the traffic light or maybe the bridge had opened. In 1960, private motor traffic was only a small percentage of all the traffic we see here. After the street was reconstructed in 1961 and got 4 motor traffic lanes, 2 bus lanes and separated cycling infrastructure, private motor traffic increased dramatically. (Picture Utrechts Archief)
In 2017 most of the space in the street is reserved for transit. Wide bus only lanes in the middle, a bi-directional cycleway on the south side and a cycleway in only one direction on the north side of the street.

Cycle rush hour on Vredenburg in Utrecht. I added no music this time, to let you hear what rush hour sounds like when the bicycle is the main form of transport.

19 thoughts on “The busiest cycleway in the Netherlands

  1. I love your videos BicycleDutch! Is it fine if use a short clip from this video in a film I’m making about livable streets?

  2. I don’t want to troll you, but as an avid pedestrian and bicycle hater — too many cyclists in my town drive on side walks even though comfortable bike lanes are available — I find it important to counter a bit this piece of cycling propaganda.

    Watching the video I cannot help but marvel how difficult it is for pedestrians to cross the street. In your archive pics from the times of motorized traffic, there have been at least a few crosswalks. Now they seem to be gone, and for pedestrians it’s more difficult now than in former times to cross the street.

    This is obvious in the youtube video you posted. Look at it not with the marvelling eyes of how smooth & quite the bike traffic is, look at what is missing in the overall traffic picture. Right, it’s children, pets, the old folks, the handicapped people. Instead, you have myriads of folks between, say, 20 and 40 years of age. The young, the better offs, those who are (physically and psychologically) capable of interacting without much stress with such intense traffic, line hopping, at times wild making a turn or overtaking. A whole urban space has been rendered inaccessible to many by the emphasis and propagation of cycling.

    There is a reason why the old people, the handicapped, the children are missing in the current cityscapes: No cyclist gives a thought how much kinetic engery he creates even at slow speed; kinetic energy that is transmitted fully on the pedestrian.

    In my conversations with other pedestrians, one topic repeatedly comes to the surface pretty quickly: The anger about careless, ruthless, inconsiderate cyclists. Pedestrians have fewer problems with drivers than with cyclists, not just because of the physical separation of different lanes. The cyclists usually drive too fast, tend to hop lines, thus drive zig-zagly and create an enormous amount of stress for pedestrians. (Even when they don’t drive the side walk.) Old folks with restricted body movement simply fear cyclists because they cannot hear them when they fastly approaching from behind or from the front. They cannot dodge the danger properly. For pedestrians, not cars but bicycles are the main threat and the main reason for stress.

    And no, it’s of no avail to call the ruthless, inconsiderate cyclists the minority, the bad apples. Belittling inconsiderate behaviour as the exception of a minority of cyclists misses the point that cycling, in itself, creates a tunnel vision that not only blocks out perception, but by doing so enhances rudeness and aggression. The inconsiderate, egomaniacal driving is not a bug, it’s a feature of cycling. And pedestrians, espcially the vulnerable ones, are the main target.

    Your post misses what most cycling propaganda misses: Cycling in the urban environments is *not* a problem relating only to drivers (cars, lorries) and cyclists. In all those discussion the pedestrians are regularly conspicuous by their absence. As long as they are not taken into account as full-fledged members in (and party to) all urban traffic, the discussions about enhancing traffic quality in urban environments, even the quality of urban life at all, only favour the stronger (drivers, cyclists) at the expense of the weakest (pedestrians). In fact, such traffic “solutions” only perpetuate what they set out to change: aggression, ruthlessness, and a social darwinism that comes in the guise of an enlightened environmentalism, ecology, sustainability.

    I am a pedestrian. I walk between 10 km and 20 km a day. The world is different from that perspective, and “taking back the street” has a very differet meaning for me.

    Thanks for reading.

    1. This was recorded during evening rush hour, so you’re going to see alot of commuters of that age group, even more so than usual. And the busiest cycle path in the Netherlands is not exactly representative of cycling in all of Utrecht, let alone in other cities and the rest of the country. Cyclists have little to do with the fact that disabled, elderly and kids aren’t often found in these busy city areas, because even cities without many cyclists have this issue. Inner cities tend to attract alot of young professionals. It’s mostly just a result of the high population density, which isn’t attractive or comfortable for those other groups.

      We don’t really see ourself as cyclists or pedestrians here. Everybody grows up with cycling, it’s just a way to get around for everybody just like walking is. Children and elderly actually make up a very big percentage of cyclists in the Netherlands. And many disabled people make use of cycling infrastructure with their mobility scooters.

    2. There are several pedestrian crossings along that stretch of road, including the famous rainbow coloured one with a nijntje(miffy) cross light, and with that street being mostly buses its easy to cross without the crossings.
      Further down that road, between the market and the Oude Gracht, the pedestrian traffic gets much thicker.
      The video is filmed next to a music/performance centre, so at that time of day there are relativly fewer people walking there, and pedestrian traffic from Central station passes through the shopping mall to the market square, bypassing that area.

      I currently live in the inner city of Utrecht, and walk everywhere (and drive to work :p), and walking here is a pleasure compared to where I previously lived in London, I don’t cycle mostly because I can walk more and cover more distance in the same time, most of my daily needs are within 5-10 mins walking distance. When the brakes are fixed, I’ll see how much that changes.

      The propaganda here is not the video, but what you refuse to see.

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