All about cycling in the Netherlands
“It is possible, that you will have made an occasional cycle tour. At least some of your journeys must involuntarily have taken you to the cycle path between Oirschot and Boxtel, where you must have thought: ‘this is joyous to ride on’. I can picture you pondering for a while to absorb the splendid colours and scents of the wonderful nature presenting itself all around you. And – I believe – you may exclaim: ‘This is such an improvement for Oirschot, now everyone can reach Oirschot. This is precisely what we need from Eindhoven to Oirschot!’ Well now, that possibility may arise.” This is a translated excerpt from a letter to the editor in an Eindhoven newspaper in 1916. Where “some of our forward thinking citizens” of the region had taken up the plan to persuade their councils to construct cycleways connecting to the beautiful one they had constructed about three years earlier in Oirschot. “If only the local authorities of [the different villages] would work together to explore the possibilities of getting subsidies from the ANWB and the provincial government, then – without any doubt – we can have such a path too. And then, when we conveniently cycle from Eindhoven to Oirschot, people will say: ‘why didn’t they build this sooner?’, for everyone will instantly understand the benefits!” Sound familiar? Cycleway envy existed over a century ago!
Recently I also found myself – not quite involuntarily – taking the cycle path between Oirschot and Boxtel. But it is not the one that the letter to the editor was about. That path, planned since 1906 and constructed from late 1913, was neglected and unfortunately it became unusable in the 1940s, after which it slowly vanished completely. The plans to revive it were already made in the 1990s, but it took until 2007 before this second cycle route between Oirschot and Boxtel was opened. After long debates, the decision to build the new connection was taken in 2003. The new route is 8.3 kilometres and has cost 8.3 million euros. A million euros per kilometre is exactly what the rough estimate for fast cycle routes generally is in the Netherlands. The investment was not evenly spread between the two towns. Much smaller Oirschot had many more kilometres to construct: 5.5 kilometres versus the 2.8 kilometres on Boxtel territory. Leading to a sum of 6.9 million euros for Oirschot, (including reconstructing large parts of the carriageway for motor traffic), and 1.4 million euros for Boxtel. The road between Oirschot and Boxtel had been an 80km/h road, without any provisions for cycling. Especially the danger for school children was the incentive to want a new cycle path. This is a type of road that almost died out now. Under the Sustainable Safety policies, which started in the 1990s, this type of road is deemed unsafe and they have (almost) all slowly disappeared. Not without a lot of debate, as was the case here. Some council members in Oirschot wanted the new cycle path to be next to a road for motor traffic that would be allowed to drive 80km/h. However, the status and width of the road, a minor rural connection, forbade that under the – then new – Sustainable Safety policies. The council members were hard to convince. It was only after they realised that the 50% Provincial subsidy would be lost if the road was not built according to the new standards that they changed their views.
The official opening of the new cycle route was on 30 August 2007. Hundreds of people gathered! Residents, council members, politicians, entrepreneurs, road builders and café owners. Both mayors and both executive council members for traffic of Boxtel as well as Oirschot were present. It wasn’t a great party, according to the local press. There were lengthy speeches with some rather unpleasant remarks, underlining the animosity between the two very different towns. The construction and demise of the first cycle path was mentioned as one of the causes for this century old animosity. It was Oirschot which constructed, paid and maintained that first cycle route, because Boxtel didn’t want to contribute. The first cycle path became overgrown and it slowly disappeared when the money ran out in Oirschot in the 1940s and allegedly Boxtel still did not want to pay anything. The speeches were followed by what the reporter calls “a short lifeless cycle tour on historic bicycles that lasted just a few hundred metres”. All this ‘fun’ culminated in erecting a new border post at the municipal border, as if to say: ‘we’ve reluctantly worked together for this project, but now we mark our boundaries again.’ I wasn’t at the opening, so I cannot confirm it was as grim as the reporter suggests it was.
Of course, you don’t notice anything of all this when you just ride on the cycleway. It is magnificent! At least, most of it. The part in Boxtel clearly wasn’t constructed well enough. Already at the opening in 2007 it was noted that the foundation was not constructed heavy enough. The roots of the poplar trees standing next to the path caused movement in the soil when these tall trees swayed in the wind, leading to cracks in the surface. Even after 11 years this has not been remedied. Minor repair attempts can be seen, but they haven’t helped very much. There is a warning sign next to the path “bad road surface”, and the biggest uprooted bits of asphalt seem to have been scraped off, but that is about all that was done. Will history repeat itself when Boxtel is again not willing to pay for maintenance? It is highly unlikely that the cycle route will completely disappear again, but there is a striking historic similarity.
The 2007 cycle route does not qualify as a fast cycle route. Not only was it built before that concept really evolved, the main reason would be because it has no lighting. It could easily be connected to the developing provincial high-speed cycle route network. Both ends connect to one of the planned routes. The Boxtel end connects to the F2 cycle route from ʼs-Hertogenbosch to Eindhoven and the Oirschot end connects to the F58 cycle route from Tilburg to Eindhoven. A slightly upgraded Oirschot-Boxtel cycle route could serve as a shortcut between these two important routes for a lot of people. Maybe that upgrade could also be an incentive for Boxtel to finally fix their part of the cycleway and history will indeed not repeat itself!
Sped-up version of the ride (3 minutes).
Real-time version of the ride (24.5 minutes).