All about cycling in the Netherlands
People sitting in the grass of the Utrecht “Paardenveld” at a location that used to be an enormous intersection at the end of a motorway less than a decade ago. When I tweeted two pictures showing that huge contrast, it became my most seen tweet so far, with 364,537 views in the first week alone, well over one view for every Utrecht resident! Most people reacted positively amazed, but there were two locals claiming the pictures were not taken from the same position (which is false) and that the road was not at all gone (which is indeed true, but I never wrote it was completely gone). One of them called the pictures misleading, the other even called this “fake news” and “propaganda”. That, in turn, amazed me. How can you misunderstand these pictures so terribly, or forget so quickly? I don’t believe I will convince people like that whatever I show them, but it did give me the inspiration to explain those pictures in a blog post. Fortunately, this blog is nearing its ten-year anniversary. I have filmed the situation on Paardenveld in Utrecht every now and then from 2009 on. That means I can give you moving before-and-after images of this stunning urban transformation (video at the end of this post). I think you’ll agree that there’s nothing fake about it!
Paardenveld means “horses field” and it took its name from the horse market that was briefly moved to this north-west corner of the city in the sixteenth century. The horse market returned to its former location in 1580, but the name stuck, and the field was later used for a goods and produce market, which was held here until 1968. That year, the market had to make way for the huge urban intersection at the end of the motorway that was planned where the city moat was located. The intersection existed from about 1970 to 2012. At one location there were 9 traffic lanes next to each other. In general the traffic lanes were divided by huge central reservations that got a lot of trees. Since most were planted in the early 1970s they had grown to become considerable trees on a lot of grass. But although the area was very green, nobody in their right mind would sit right next to multiple lanes of fast-moving motor traffic.
Utrecht has decided to dedicate less space to the car. I have shown you different examples, such as the inner ring road at ʼt Goylaan and a former through road at Tolsteegsingel/Maliesingel. This project is completely in line with these policies, but it started a lot earlier. The works to remove the motorway and recreate the disappeared city moat started in 2009 and in 2012 at this location. By December 2015, the motorway had been demolished and the water had returned. I already showed you that transformation in the first blog post of 2016, but in my new video I focus on this particular location. The street pattern at this location returned to how it was before 1968, so yes, there still is a road next to the new water. The new street has only one lane in each direction. Two much smaller T-junctions came in the place of the one huge intersection. At the T-junctions the one travel lane gets (mostly) two added turning lanes. At one location the opposite direction even has 2 travel lanes, making five lanes in total. Interestingly enough, those exact same 5 lanes were formerly used for just one direction, so even there, the total number of lanes decreased considerably.
In the 1970s, of all the new trees, some had been planted in the location of the former and current water way. Obviously those trees had to be removed again. A lot of new but mature trees were planted to make up for these lost ones. Some trees were even relocated from other places in the city. In March 2017, three very large trees came from elsewhere in Utrecht. These 18-metre-tall lime trees had to make way for the new light-rail line to the University Campus and were fortunately fit for a relocation. The three trees weighed 12 metric tons each and they were transported by truck, horizontally. The lime trees got company in December 2017, when 5 dawn redwood trees came from yet another location in Utrecht. This transformed the blank canvas of early 2016 into a real city park. A rock from a Swedish glacier with the name “Park Paardenveld” had been unveiled on 31 March 2017, by the alderman for the reconstruction of the Utrecht Station area. That same day the fountain in the water was also switched on for the first time. Residents had asked for the fountain because they liked the temporary fountains for the opening festivities in December 2015 so much. Since April 2017, Park Paardenveld also has a much-loved –temporary– restaurant with an outside café in a reused standard shipping container.
From 2012 to 2018 Paardenveld has been transformed from a place where the flow of motor traffic was the only design consideration, to a place where people really like to linger. You don’t have to believe me, you can also read what a local paper had to say. Headlined “Seven reasons why the new Paardenveld is more than fun”, they wrote among other things: “a lawn at the water front, a little something to eat, a drink to sip from and you can listen to the relaxing sound of the water fountain; the renewed park Paardenveld with its surroundings is a lot of fun.”
My video explaining the transformation of the Utrecht Paardenveld.
My video with two bike rides, traversing Paardenveld in 2009 and 2018, side by side.