Retailers in the Utrecht shopping street Oudkerkhof are very pleased with how their street was reconstructed. Some seem to think it was done at their request. But this transformation was part of a much larger program that runs for years. It is meant to upgrade the city centre of Utrecht by making it less accessible for motor traffic and much more attractive for people walking and cycling.
The cause for the reconstruction can be traced as far back as 2007, when many stakeholders in the Utrecht city centre held important public discussions about the desired development of the core of the historic city centre; the shopping heart of the city. The results of these discussions were documented in a report called “Discussienota Binnenstad” (Discussion report Inner-City). This vision formed the basis for the Inner-City Development Plan (Bestemmingsplan Binnenstad) that was adopted in February 2010. Both these important documents are the foundation of the reconstruction plan for the street Oudkerkhof that was finalised in March 2016. I have shown you a few other examples of streets that were reconstructed in the same area with the same principles and reports in mind. Mariaplaats and Twijnstraat for example. But most noteworthy in this case is Domstraat/Korte Jansstraat that Oudkerkhof leads to.
The key point in the reports and all the redesigns is this. Utrecht wants its city core to be an attractive public space. A place that is the domain of people walking and cycling (in that order!) and where drivers of motor vehicles are guest. It is a pleasant area to live and work. That positive feeling is enhanced by how the area is designed. The street design improves the attractiveness of the city centre for visitors and thus improves the economic vitality of the area. It is a public space that the city is proud of.
On average, the Utrecht city centre is visited by about 25 million people per year. At least the most important area with all the well-known international chains. That area is relatively small. Just outside that area we find a second ring with some nice squares and many more local shops. This is where Oudkerkhof is located. It is also the area of Dom Square with DomUnder, a museum about Utrecht’s Roman past, and Janskerkhof with its Flower market. This part of the centre draws much fewer people but still sees about 2 to 5 million visitors on average per year. By investing in the street design of this area the city hopes to make it attractive for people visiting the core to expand their visit to this area.
Oudkerkhof means “Old graveyard” and that is because it is located where the city’s graveyard could be found between the years 690 and 780. The street is narrow (circa 14 metres wide) and had one travel lane for both motor traffic and cycling in one way of 3.5 to 3.7 metres wide. There were two parking lanes with a total of 24 parking spaces, one loading bay and one disabled parking space. This gave the feeling the street was still very much designed for motor traffic. The side-walk was about 3 to 4 metres wide. Very special about this street (for the Netherlands) is that it is a sloping street. There is a difference of 1.5 metres in height between the ends of the just 170-metre-long street.
In the new situation the street should have the feeling that it is especially designed for walking and cycling. Therefore, parking is very much restricted. Only 8 parking spaces (of the 24) remain. This was an explicit wish of some of the entrepreneurs, one shop keeper said: “My customers can park in the nearby Springweg Parking garage. They don’t have to that in this street.”
The entrepreneurs identified themselves so much with the redesign that they told a local newspaper the reconstruction was at their request to give the street a new grandeur. When the reconstruction was finished late 2017, they organised a street party for which they closed the street to motor traffic completely. There was a runway in the middle of the street where mannequins showed clothes you can buy in the shops here.
But soon after the party the atmosphere changed a little. There were many complaints that it wasn’t clear enough where you could park. Customers returning to their car found a parking ticket, not one, but hundreds. In the first half-year after the reconstruction 242 parking tickets were issued. A huge contrast to the 42 tickets in the entire year before. The shop keepers complained about this in the press. It led to questions from opposition parties to the alderman in the city council. The city admitted that it was apparently not clear enough where parking was allowed and where it was not. The alderman announced that measures would be taken. The open spaces created for walking would temporarily get objects to make parking impossible. The parking bays were marked more explicitly and the no-parking zones got a no-parking cross in the surface. However, if you go to the street today you can still see cars parked on such crossed out spaces. It may also be that drivers do understand about the no-parking regulations but that they simply choose to disobey the rules. They then whine and lie about the unclear situation. Dutch drivers are in no way different from drivers anywhere else.
On the day I filmed the 2018 after situation you can count 13 parked vehicles. That is 5 more than there should be. These wrongly parked cars make this redesign a bit less successful than the other examples I showed you. The before and after situations are not all that different because of it. The desired “open space” is not really there yet with wrongly parked cars filling it. I hope the enforcement will be kept up, so drivers are educated and the reconstruction can be more successful than it is so far.
A ride in Oudkerkhof before the reconstruction in 2017
and after it was finished in 2018.