A surreal cycle detour, in the depths of the largest shopping mall of the Netherlands, through the underground warehouse area that is normally closed to the public. The city of Utrecht had to be very resourceful to make it possible to cycle on during the major reconstruction works that are still going on in its station area. The detour is ingenious and at the same time a testament that cycling really is very important in Utrecht.
It is not the first time a cycle detour leads people through a building in the Netherlands, Amsterdam had that scoop, but that doesn’t make this – much longer – detour in Utrecht less impressive. The people in Utrecht have had to adapt to so many cycle detours in the past 10 years, that they don’t blink an eye when they’re sent through the underbelly of their shopping mall, right past warehouses and waste container collection points. This area really is at street level, but since the former ordinary streets are completely covered, you have the feeling you are deep underground. The street names give away that this indeed used to be normal streets before the shopping mall was constructed in the early seventies. The detour leads through Westerstraat, Stationsdwarsstraat and Stationsstraat of which every building was demolished and replaced by the gigantic concrete monster that is the Hoog Catharijne shopping mall. (The monster you learn to hate and love when you find out it was the economic salvation of the small provincial town that Utrecht used to be.) At first, people could still enter this netherworld, but when the heroin addicts of the 1980s slept here by the dozens the area was sealed off with big gates and nobody was allowed to enter it any longer. Now this realm of the delivery vehicles was opened for six weeks to make cycling possible here.
The shopping mall right next to Utrecht’s central railway station is under a complete reconstruction. While it stays open, every part of it is torn down and replaced by something new. The shopping mall passed over the motorway that had come in the place of the Utrecht city moat. That overpass has also been replaced. The motorway is already gone and partly replaced by the original water. The new overpass, next to the old one and over the new water, has been built and is already open. Now that old overpass can be taken down. This is happening in the six weeks from 6 July to 21 August 2017. It is not possible to cycle under a structure that is being demolished, especially one where asbestos must be removed, therefore a detour was necessary.
There is no short detour for private motor traffic. The fastest route to drive to the other side (a distance of about 100 metres) is a 6-kilometre detour to the west. This takes 14 minutes. There is a slightly shorter route through the labyrinth of closed-off and one-way historic city centre streets, but that will take longer and the risk of encountering a temporary blockage (due to a delivery van for instance), which will increase your travel time even more, is really big. The third option, to the east, is going all the way to the inner ring road. This is a 10-kilometre route that takes 20 minutes. Pedestrians are sent through the shopping mall and cycling takes place in the warehouse corridors. That means that for cycling the detour is just 230 metres, only 130 metres longer than usual. The tunnels got extra lights and traffic wardens stand at every corner, 24/7, to increase the feeling of social safety. All this to make it possible for people to continue cycling in a building site. When you compare the detours for private motor traffic and cycling it is once again clear that the “cycling comes first” motto in Utrecht is no hollow phrase.
A video report on the inventive temporary cycle detour in Utrecht.
Riding the detour in both directions.