Cycling to the hospital (Utrecht)

Another “real ride” in this week’s post; this time filmed in Utrecht, where I rode from my work place to the city’s largest hospital to visit a patient. This was a friend of ours from ʼs-Hertogenbosch, who had to undergo an operation that could not take place in the hospital there, so he had been transferred to Utrecht. The operation in the university hospital in Utrecht went very successfully and he only had to stay a few days. Since I work in Utrecht, I was able to pay him a visit after work and I filmed the ride. It is quite a contrast to my earlier ride to the hospital in ʼs-Hertogenbosch.

This street design on the former hospital location pre-dates Sustainable Safety policies. On-street cycle lanes in a 30km/h street are very unusual. These apartment buildings came in the place of some of the hospital’s annexes that were demolished
Even stranger: separate cycleways in a 30km/h zone that also have no signs telling you it is a cycleway…

The University Medical Centre Utrecht was relocated in the mid-1980s from a more central location in the city to the University Campus about 5 kilometres outside the city centre. The hospital is one of the larger in the country with 1,000 beds and a staff of over 12,000. The former location was then redesigned as a residential area in the late 1980s, early 1990s. Some of the original monumental main hospital buildings were spared and converted into apartments. Most annexes were demolished and replaced by mid-rise apartment buildings (up to 6 floors). To shield the new homes against noise from the railway line right next to it, one 600 metre long office block was placed between the new housing and the railway. I work in that building. So by coincidence that made this a ride from the old location of the hospital to its new location.

Back to a more common type of infrastructure. A 50km/h collector road with separate one-way cycle tracks on either side. To the right the original main building of the Utrecht city hospital. The hospital moved away from here in the mid-1980s.
An unusual sight: two separate “lanes” for cycling to the left or to the right with two separate traffic lights. Right turning traffic (cars and cycling) gets green at the same time and left turning traffic gets a different phase. I had to wait almost a minute here. Which is quite long.

The ride starts in the residential area that was built in the early 1990s. That means this area was designed just before the current Sustainable Safety policies and its requirements for residential streets were adopted. The streets have indeed not been designed according to those policies. We do see 30 km/h residential streets with a brick surface, but they also have on-street cycle lanes, which has become unusual. When I almost reach the edge of the area the on-street cycle lanes even become protected cycleways. Residential streets with a 30km/h speed limit do not require protected cycleways under the current policies, but in this area they were built. It helps to know when a residential area was designed and built to understand why it was designed the way it was and why it doesn’t follow current design standards.

A very narrow cycle lane, about half the width the handbooks advise. Due to space constraints this strange anomaly exists. Fortunately it is only about 100 metres long.
You can avoid this (not very well protected) intersection by using an underpass in a bridge abutment on the left hand side. This traffic light was red for over 2 and a half minutes. Possibly because this is minor street crossing a more important road. Still, that is far too long for a traffic light to be red. It really decreased my average speed on this trip.

The design of the collector road past the history city centre, that has a speed limit of 50 km/h, is more familiar again. That street has one-way cycle tracks separated from the carriageway for motor traffic. The cycle track takes me past the original main hospital building, now an apartment building. The first larger intersection is then again a bit strange. There are two lanes for cycling separated by a line of trees. One right-turning lane and one left turning lane. Each with their own traffic light with a different phase. This only underlines that every intersection is designed for its specific location and nothing really completely follows the guidebooks 100%. This also goes for the following on-street cycle lane that for about 100 metres must be one of the narrowest cycle lanes in the city at circa 1 metre. Well below the minimal width of 2 metres in the CROW manual. If all the cycling infrastructure in the city would be like that it would not have led to the cycling we see now in Utrecht, but when it is only 100 metres of inconvenience where a street is very narrow, in an otherwise good system, then it can be tolerated as an exception.

Finally back on normal cycling infrastructure. The exit of the underpass you would normally take is to the right. This is the main road to the university campus, east of the city. Where a lot of people need to go, hence also the double bended bus. With the bus stop designed like this there is no real conflict between bus (passengers) and cycling.
Contrary to the earlier intersection this one is a textbook example of a protected intersection. You can see how much distance there is between motor traffic stopping for a red light in the foreground and the stop line for cycling that is in the middle of the picture where you can see the red traffic signal for cycling. The crossing with the white blocks really stands out even from this distance.

I then had to make a slight detour due to the way I film now. The 360 camera is on a high pole and the normal route would take me under a very low underpass. I was afraid the pole would be too high and I did not want to risk smashing the camera. I therefore got to experience an intersection that I normally never see. I will certainly be avoiding it in the future, because the lights took very long. I could already see they were red from a distance and they only turn green over two-and-a-half-minute later. That is unacceptably long. Already annoyed by the lights I then got cut off by a right turning food delivery van. Fortunately I then quickly get to the normal route that is much better and the final 4 kilometres of the route is quite uneventful. The route to the University area has wide cycleways, good smooth surfaces and shorter waiting times at only a handful of traffic lights. Only on the campus itself it became a bit busy.

The university campus area is really busy. Many people cycle here. There is a counter on the traffic lights. It counts both seconds to red as well as seconds to green. In this case there are still 6 seconds to red but if there are more people approaching on a bicycle that number sometimes also increases to make it possible for everyone to still make the light. Advanced detection loops make that possible.
This is the wide cycle lane on the main street through the university campus. Parallel to it runs the new light-rail line. The city is currently testing it. Service will start later in 2019.
At some locations the light-rail tracks are in the grass, on other locations, such as here, the light-rail tracks are combined with a bus street. This crossing is considered so dangerous that it got traffic lights.

When I reach the hospital it turns out the hospital has a cycle way on their own property. That private cycleway looks exactly like a 1980s cycleway. Most of the public ones have been upgraded, but this one has been frozen in time since it was built. It has a surface of red tiles and it is quite narrow for a two-way cycle path. It leads directly to a bicycle parking area that is really not too generous for a hospital of this size. It was already almost full at the time I visited it. I expect it to be over capacity during the main visiting hours. I’ve seen other people complaining that this facility and other parking spaces around the hospital are often full. So even while this visitors parking space is conveniently located directly under the main entrance, the parking facilities for bicycles should really be updated, as maybe the cycleway should too. But those are minor complaints in the entire cycling experience. All in all this was again a very convenient ride.

On the private land of the hospital we find this very 1980s looking cycleway. Red tiles and narrow for two-way cycling. When this was built there was less difference between this and the rest of the city. Now there is. Time for an update.
The visitors bicycle parking facility at the hospital is quite small but it was adequate at the time I visited it. It is directly under the main entrance that you can reach with stairs.

This week’s video: a real ride to Utrecht’s largest hospital.

The entire ride is about 4.6 kilometres for which I needed over 20 minutes. That is a very low average speed of just about 13km/h. The two traffic lights at the beginning, for which I had to wait almost 2 and half minutes, caused that for a large part.



11 thoughts on “Cycling to the hospital (Utrecht)

  1. Mark took the central route along the Heidelberglaan. Here converge several routes from south and west at the last crossing. This crossing was completely redesigned in 2009 to give a better access to the “south” car parking of the hospital at the cost of the access capacity for other cars, passing the car parking.
    The traffic now piles up to 500 meters or more on the Universiteitsweg before this crossing.
    That is a major problem at the Leuvenlaan T-junction where also several routes end at one unguarded crossing over the Universiteitsweg. This T-junction is one big, messy conflict between cars with other cars and cars with cyclists. Recently a motor rider was killed on that junction. 100% of the cyclists crossing there are student or employee at the hospital. Still the managing board shows no interest in improving this horrible situation. So we have 10 year anniversary now.

    Documentation here (in Dutch):

    1. Hello Theo,
      It’s always disappointing (albeit eye-opening to me, an Australian and a planner continually reading of the connection between public health and physical activity) to hear about ignorant/regressive actions by authorities as you describe, but especially health authorities (who don’t seem to be aware of the old adage “prevention is better than cure”); double-especially in NL; and triple-especially in cycling-leading Utrecht!
      Unfortunately university students are onky temporary attendees of a handfuk of years, and as so are apparently given much less (if any) thought by authorities compared to local residents and their children attending local schools from age 5 to 17-18. I’ve seen a similar instance of IMO neglect for the safety and welfare of uni students by Amsterdam and UvA.
      Best of luck to you organising for the necessary improvements to cycling facilities in and around the hospital.


  2. All guarded bicycle parks at the hospital are completely overfilled. And all but one of the unguarded parking areas are full too. This has been the situation for the last ten years. Yes we had one new… because another one was taken away.
    Since 2013 the hospital has been investing over 20 M€ in car parking (and still counting). Cycle parkings are too few, too low quality, mostly unguarded and on average on a too long walking distance, up to 500 meters. Besides high ambitions on paper nothing notably is done to change this. Many years of mailing, complaining and other guerilla strategies have proven useless. The high point was half a year ago when they threatened to report my wrongly parked at the police (after cutting the added lock of the local security). Still waiting for that to happen.

  3. The tiled bike path on the hospital was resurfaced a number of years ago. In mid winter, with frosted underground. After a few months it was as bad as before. Basically the situation for 25 years now.

  4. Very cool video! On my Cannondale trainer, the wrap-around version makes it look like I’m going 90 kmh. 🙂

  5. Oh the irony of that 100m section of “half-width” unprotected bike lane being the worst piece of cycling “infrastructure” on your trip. In Australia that would be celebrated as “a huge win for cyclists”, that is if it were even ever installed, and even if it didn’t connect to any other bits of painted on-road cycling facility at either end.

    The 360 degree interactive video is great for viewers eg while you’re focussing on the road ahead and waiting for ages for the lights to go green, we can casually look sideways and even behind us; it’s as close to being a Dutch child sitting on their parent’s bike as I’ll get so I’ll gladly take it! 🙂

    I hope your friend’s operation went well, and wishing them a speedy recovery.


    1. No separate cycle infra, and at least the first one with more traffic calming (road narrowing, bends and such) so the 30 km/h would be adhered to more or less automatically.

      1. Thanks. That was my thought but wanted to make sure.

        What’s the latest w/ cars passing bicycle riders on such streets? It seems it was not allowed and then it was allowed and then not allowed again.

        1. It’s always been allowed. There’s some talk that it would be forbidden on cyclestreets, but that’s not an official law, in fact, the whole concept of cyclestreet does not exist in law.

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