All about cycling in the Netherlands
When I was in Groningen two months ago, I was able to revisit the cycle route from the city centre to the University Campus Zernike that I had been critical about when I last visited the city in 2016. What has the city done to this route in the three years that have passed and can I be more positive now?
The International Cargo Bike Festival took place in Groningen mid-June. There was a congress on Friday and a public event on Saturday. Before, when the festival took place in Nijmegen, just 50 minutes by train from where I live, I went home for the night. But Groningen is almost 4 hours away from my home, therefore I stayed the night in a hotel. This gave me time to explore the city at night. Mid-June it stays light very long in the Netherlands (almost until 11pm) so I was also able to film something. I decided to film the route from the University Campus Zernike to the city centre. Unfortunately, the batteries of my 360 camera had been charged too long before and that camera didn’t want to start up. So I had to film it the old-fashioned way, with my phone in my hand. It is a good thing the ban on holding your phone while cycling only came into effect a few weeks later, so I was not breaking any laws.
In 2016, I had four main complaints about the route in my post about Groningen, which was a finalist for the best cycling city of the Netherlands competition. I didn’t think it looked like a route in the first place. It was such a collection of different types of infrastructure that it all wasn’t tied together enough as one route. Even though there were stencils on the roadway to tell you where to go. Secondly, I was not impressed by one major intersection where the cycle route did not have priority over car traffic. My third complaint involved the state of maintenance and the width of one of the cycle paths that is part of this route and the fourth complaint was about the high number of buses in the city centre causing an incredible number of bus-bike conflicts.
In the 2016 video, the route was just a small item in the city portrait. This time I filmed it from beginning to end. Has the city addressed any of my complaints? Yes, they have, I am happy to say! Not because of my complaints particularly, but because the things I mentioned were generally known. Working through my list from 4 to 1 I was very happy to see that the buses are no longer going through the city centre. I don’t exactly know where they went, but I am guessing to the city ring that I avoided (because it doesn’t have cycling infrastructure). All the streets in the city centre became more attractive and felt a lot safer without the many buses which I still saw in 2016. That is a huge improvement. The narrow cycle track that had a worn out surface in 2016 was widened and got a new smooth asphalt surface in 2017. It is now much more suited for the 17,000 cyclists that use this path on a working day. Very good! However, my first two complaints were not solved. The route still doesn’t feel like one route. Many of the stencils on the road faded in those three years. Some had been replaced, but there were essential ones missing. I even missed a turn because of it. The video is therefore not one shot, but two, combined to reflect the right route that I only found because I looked it up on the internet. That is not very good. My second complaint was about the one huge intersection of Eikenlaan where cycling does not have priority. Such a lot has happened at this crossing that I already wrote a post about it.
Late 2017, the city experimented with this intersection. The priority was reversed and given to the people cycling. But with 17,000 people cycling there were not enough gaps in the cycle traffic to let the 12,000 motor vehicles per day pass here in the rush hours. This led to congestion for motor traffic. The experiment was apparently not long enough, or the congestion was not bad enough to make people in cars choose a different route. After some incidents with car drivers breaking the law and crashing into cyclists the experiment was cut short and the priority was again given back to drivers. This does not mean that is the end of it. Far from it. An alderman of the city called the experiment “a success, although it didn’t lead to what we had hoped”. He said the safety of cycling improved during the rush hours but was worse outside the busy times. It was now also clear that the only right solution will be a grade separated one. The city promised to investigate that solution. This was reflected in the comments of the local chapter of the Cyclists’ Union: “We are disappointed about the short term solution, but we are hopeful that the future solution will be a lot better”.
The city kept its promise; the executive council studied the possibilities and proposed the council to build a tunnel for car traffic in June 2018. This would be the better solution (so not a cycle tunnel). It is estimated that this solution will cost 8 to 11 million euros. The city council approved the plan. However, this does not mean the tunnel will be built anytime soon. The city is building a ring road in the south and that project must be finished first, the council said in July 2018. What was a factor namely, was that there were municipal elections in Groningen in November 2018. So the new council is the one to really decide about this. I wasn’t able to find news about the views of the new council about this project. But I did see that the alderman who was the spokes person for this project is again alderman. So that is hopeful.
There are also other things in this route that could be improved. Some of the streets in the city centre are 30km/h streets but they do not have the design to tell you that. There are many crossings where the route does not have priority and it is simply not everywhere clear where the route goes next. All in all the route is not too bad for Dutch standards, but it must certainly look very good from a foreign perspective. See for yourself in the video.
The route filmed on a Friday night in June.
Map of the Zernike Route