A Groningen ride (University – Centre)

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 cycleway was widened here in a peculiar way. One half in red asphalt, the other half in uneven grey concrete tiles.

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 the University area there were a lot of road works. Here the original route used a street shared with motor traffic, but that was fenced off. There is now an earlier left turn.
That left turn leads people to a former car parking lot that is now re-used as a temporary cycle way. Unfortunately a bit narrow for two-way cycle traffic.

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.

This cycleway was widened considerably in 2017.
The crossing with Eikenlaan that has no priority for cycling, after a trial giving the cycle route priority in 2017 was a failure.
This tunnel for motor traffic is planned to be built at Eikenlaan. Picture gemeente Groningen.

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.

People in Groningen often cycle together on one bicycle. They even do that on a Swap-Fiets (lease bicycle).
To lower the speed for mopeds/scooters there are these speed bumps that are inconvenient for scooters, but not too bad for cycling. It would be better when mopeds would be sent off the cycleways all over the Netherlands…

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”.

Most of the time stencils on the street surface tell you which way the city centre is on this Zernike-Centre route. Unfortunately, they were missing at some essential locations.
More streets in Groningen were under reconstruction. This street is a 30 km/h zone, but the design does not really reflect that.

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.

The Eikenlaan crossing is not the only place where this main cycle route has to give priority. In this case, however, it is another main cycle route crossing this one.
Streets like these do not really look like a main cycle route. That makes it easier to get lost and car drivers do not really behave like guests in such a street.

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.

This street in the city centre is closed to motor traffic. It is only open for walking and cycling and delivery vehicles. Two university professors walk here in their gowns.
Near the end of the route the Groningen Martini Tower comes in sight.
This route ends at City Hall on the main square in the city centre.

The route filmed on a Friday night in June.


Map of the Zernike Route

7 thoughts on “A Groningen ride (University – Centre)

  1. I tried a few routes between Zernike and the city as a tourist yesterday. I liked the path along the Reitdiep the most. The path along Zonnelaan was my second favourite. The path taken in the video was a bit confusing the first time I tried it. Nevertheless, all the paths mentioned are way better and direct than the paths I have in my country in Brisbane Australia.

  2. It’s actually changed quite a lot since you were here! The area on the first photo of this blog post has been completely dug up and is in the process of being totally redone.

    The route to the university now continues northwards where it meets Crematoriumlaan, heading along Paddepoelsterweg. Then there’s a new bit of cycleway and a new bridge, shown on Google Maps as Penningsdijk, which takes you right into the university complex: https://www.google.nl/maps/@53.241104,6.537514,17z

    I’m not sure if that’s temporary or permanent! But it’s much better than the temporary route through the old car park was.

  3. The “moped speed bumps” are actually car blocks, so only bikes and mopeds can use the cycle way and it will be not used as a shortcut for cars. Not sure, but most likely ambulances and fire trucks are able to pass.

    1. the speed bumps are located between houses and a primary school. they really are speed bumps for mopeds etc. emergency vehicles can reach the primary school from a parking space of a sports complex on the Eikenlaan. the houses on the other side of the speed bumps are reachable by car

  4. You write “Here the original route used a street shared with motor traffic, but that was fenced off” for the cycle path at Zernike, but that fenced off 2 meter stretch of cycle path was never officially opened. It didn’t even exist before 2017. Also the road it leads to only leads to the funeral home. So very low traffic. I don’t know why they created this solution.

    See https://goo.gl/maps/6xCwudNBe7tgfG7A7 for the situation in 2016.

  5. The problem with the Eikenlaan crossing is that there is no real option for motor traffic to go around. it is either taking the long route around via the northern ring road, or via the Concordiabuurt. the road via the Concordiabuurt is not suited for busy two-way traffic, and it still has an intersection with the cycleway. though here the cyclists have right of way.

    Groningen has, due to the Eikenlaan bottleneck, created a second main cycleway to Zernike which goes along the Reitdiep in the west. it does help to relieve some of the pressure, though the Eikenlaan intersection remains a pain.

    1. To add to that: the Eikenlaan is also a key route for buses (city buses 1 and 2), and the changed priority situation led to huge delays. Just around the corner is also an ambulance station, and the traffic congestion therefore also led to complaints from the ambulance authority. I think the proposed underpass will be a good solution.
      With regard to buses in the city centre: the western part of the city centre has indeed been made bus-free in recent years. The eastern part (around the Grote Markt) will follow next year. Buses are indeed rerouted around the canal ring. Cycling infrastructure there is also being improved (from two car lanes in each direction to one car lane plus a cycle lane).

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