Is this tunnel really a disaster?

It was opened two years ago, but it is still not completely finished, the tunnel for walking and cycling between Wijbosch and Schijndel, near ʼs-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands. The only thing missing is a work of art on the tunnel walls that has yet to be placed. Some locals and a national television program call this tunnel an “expensive failure” and “a waste of taxpayers’ money”. Is it really that bad? Time to investigate.

The tunnel between Schijndel and Wijbosch. Is it the complete disaster some say it is?

The Structuurweg in Schijndel connects to the N617 to ʼs-Hertogenbosch. That road was reconstructed and that meant this road had to be updated as well. To improve the motor traffic flow, the intersection Structuurweg – Wijbosscheweg was to be reconstructed to include a grade separated crossing for walking and cycling. From the options at hand the former municipality of Schijndel chose a tunnel. A bad idea, say some residents now. In the connecting N617, reconstructed earlier, a cycle roundabout near Sint-Michielsgestel didn’t prove to be the best idea either. I wrote about that fiasco in an earlier blog post. The sharp corners of the roundabout entries – that were most problematic – have since been rounded off, problem solved. So, what seems to be the issue here?

The roundabout in nearby Sint-Michielsgestel had terrible corners when it was constructed.
The sharp edges were literally rounded to make the corners far better for cycling.

Ever since the tunnel was opened on 6 November 2015 people complained about it.  A national television program called “Van onze centen!” (From our money!) visited Schijndel last summer. In a sensationalist way the tunnel was called “a waste of taxpayers’ money” and “if you can’t afford a roller coaster ride, you only have to ride your bicycle into this tunnel!” To support these wild assertions, the program makers interviewed some people who thought the tunnel is bad, mainly because the entrances are too steep. The program also claimed the tunnel was 800,000 euro more expensive than planned. Is there truth in these claims?

The intersection before it was reconstructed. Picture (former) municipality of Schijndel.
An overpass was also considered, but these plans were discarded in favour of a tunnel. Picture (former) municipality of Schijndel.

Yes, the overspending was exactly that amount, but can all of that be attributed to the tunnel? Not quite, it turns out. The ruling council of the former municipality of Schijndel answered questions about the overspending and the justification has an exact breakdown of the cost. Large amounts were needed for other things than the tunnel, such as the construction of an initially overlooked bus stop, extra consultancy costs, interest due to delays and higher fees for the contractors. All in all, the extra costs for the tunnel were 300,000 euros. This was for a completely new design, needed because the original design had such mistakes that it could never have been built. Still a large amount, but the total cost of this completely reconstructed large intersection now came to 2.8 million euros, which does not seem excessively much.

The design of the new intersection with the tunnel for walking and cycling. Integrated in the design are bicycle parking racks for the bus stop. Picture Brabants Dagblad.
The curved incline is not impossible for everybody. These elderly people have no trouble cycling out of the tunnel on their e-bikes.

The incline of the tunnel – although steep – follows the recommendations for tunnels in the Netherlands, which is: stay below 5%. So that claim doesn’t stand either. Not all the recommendations were followed. The curve in the north incline makes it impossible to see the other end of the tunnel when you enter it. Also, the walls of the tunnel are not reclining. That makes the tunnel less attractive, but to call it a “complete disaster” goes much too far. The same goes for its nickname. The tunnel has been nicknamed “Barten tunnel” after the “Barten bridge” in nearby ʼs-Hertogenbosch, which really was a fiasco, that I described in an earlier post. That unfinished bridge had to be removed and built anew for more than 10 million euros extra. To compare 10 million to 300,000 euros is a grave exaggeration.

Somebody put up a sign with the nickname Bartentunnel, after the Bartenbrug in ʼs-Hertogenbosch that was a real fiasco.
A warning sign for the tight curve and the steep incline. However, the gradient was built according to regulations.

A last complaint is about the work of art. All tunnels in the Netherlands get a work of art, to make them more appealing and to give them a less socially unsafe atmosphere. The municipality hired a graffiti artist from Eindhoven for this tunnel, known from the annual graffiti festival in Eindhoven’s ‘bear pit’. The large work of art, 640 square metres in total, would cost 40,000 euros. But there was a problem; somehow the undercoat of paint didn’t stick to the walls properly in November 2016. They tried again, in April 2017, but when the artist started to apply the colours, the paint came off the wall again. According to the municipality that was due to the damp weather in that time of the year. The paint was removed again. A third attempt was made last June, but again… the paint didn’t hold. Rumour has it because it was forgotten that an anti-graffiti coating had already been applied to the plain white walls… If that is true somebody should be very ashamed. Whatever the reasons, the walls remained completely white ever since, while the new municipality of Meierijstad (in existence since 1 January 2017) decides what to do.

An attempt to paint the walls with graffiti art failed three times in a row. This paint was since removed and the walls are completely white again. Picture courtesy of Mooi Schijndel.

I used the tunnel in both directions and filmed the rides. Have a look at the video and decide for yourself: is this really a disastrous tunnel for walking and cycling?

This week’s video: the underpass in Schijndel.


16 thoughts on “Is this tunnel really a disaster?

  1. The tunnel is fine, the problem is really the connection it makes, it does not save cyclist time, only cars profit.

    Just have a look at the map,

    Cyclist can only pass East-West and vice-versa. East-West you only have the tunnel but West-East you have the tunnel and a traffic light.

    The tunnel also adds a detour of 130 meter and a ramp and as you can see in the video that takes about 40 seconds. A traffic light, when set cycle friendly, has a lower average wait and takes less effort.

    So the curve in the north incline not only has impact on the safety feeling but also on the travel time. With a straight tunnel also the traffic light crossing West-East could changed into a uncontrolled crossing just like is done West of the crossing.

    It is a real pity that no straight tunnel was chosen, too bad nobody really thought about cycling comfort.

  2. Looks fine and fun to me.

    As to the mystery of the paint, I believe it should be very easy to determine what the problem is. It’s not rocket science!

  3. To avoid problematic incline for cycling tunnels mostly the road above is half-lifted which makes is possible to build the tunnel less deeper i.e. half-deep. However here we are to close to the junction which makes it too expensive to lift the road/junction.
    I’ve added 3 pictures of the similar cycling tunnel mentioned by Victor Charles, underpass in the N408 near an industrial site.

  4. Vertical wall within cm. of the cycleway is just intimidating. Pointless sharp bends with short straights! On such sharp bends there should be a well calculated angle of camber, well should be on all curves…

    That said we dream of ever getting any kind of sensible cycling infrastructure in the UK.

  5. On the part of the video on the way back when you were following the two teenage girls, you can see them speeding up on the way down. They know that the way up is a bit steep so they speed up to make the slope. So maybe there is an issue here.

  6. Perfectly feasible & practical for the cost, but I think the designers have the wrong priorities. These days, more effort should be made to stick to desire lines for pedestrians & cyclists rather than the convenience of traffic. If I was designing this junction I would negatively grade the traffic by say 2 metres and use the spoil to create embankments for a gentle gradient & short cycle/ped bridge along the desire lines. Additionally, this dip in the roadway would act as an emergency reservoir (with pumps switched off) to help reduce the effects of flash floods & protect property – something the Dutch need to consider in the near future of Climate Change! If lots of roadways were designed like that, that’s a lot of water storage for emergencies.

  7. My only criticism would be the curve that stops you being able to see straight through on entry: I don’t know what Schjindel’s crime rate is like, but in some areas it could put people off using it at certain times of day. Sloping walls would be better, too.

    The Dutch put an amazing amount of detailed thinking into their cycle routes, and when some engineer goes rogue, it really shows.

  8. If anything, this demonstrates the high level of quality Dutchies expect from their infrastructure and the various (government) institutions involved.

    It is a trait which can be incredibly annoying whne dealing with it on a day to day basis but sorely missed when experiencing complete apathy and resulting lack of good outcomes in other countries.

  9. Your disastrous would be amazing in my area, there’s a couple brutal ones I can think of that are probably over 10% grade, with the grade suddenly ending as you enter the tunnel (and on one side, a large bump as you crest the grade, that I’ve actually caught air on).

  10. This underpass looks very similar with the underpass under the N408, connecting Nieuwegein to Houten. I rode that underpass with my 30 kg velomobile, no problem what so ever.

  11. How come the tunnel was that steep? It looks like they had more space. Utilities under the road perhaps?

    And also why is that sign warning of the curve in the American/Canadian style not a red upwards pointing equilateral triangle?

  12. Disastrous? I don’t know. It’s really hard to judge from a video.

    I think though that argument regarding how “difficult” an incline of a cycle lane is should be based on pedal-only bicycles, not on ebikes (even if it is a granny ride the ebike).

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