Road versus tree (the tree won!)

In Vught there is an almost 100 year old beech tree that had survived World War II as a sapling. Decades later it was carefully spared when the motorway it stands next to was widened. Yet some time ago it seemed its days were numbered. The municipality of Vught wanted to fell the tree for the redesign of a major street. It didn’t happen. There was such a lot of opposition that the court finally ruled the monumental tree had to stay and so the desired road had to be designed around it.

This copper beech in Vught had to be spared. The judge ruled that it was more important than the planned road and so that was led around it.
The exact location where the old cycle path connects to the new 3.5 metre wide cycleway in smooth red asphalt.

A majority in the council of the municipality saw no problems in cutting down the beautiful and well known copper beech tree standing on the square called Maurickplein at the edge of the town centre and right next to the A2 motorway. Only the green coalition (a local collaboration of the green party and labour) were against it. The council wanted to achieve three things with the redesign of the area around the square. The creation of a logical through road for motor traffic, a more direct and safer cycle route also leading traffic around the town’s centre and thirdly a space for events that could be used without the need to close the area to traffic. That the sewer pipes in the streets were due for replacement was also a reason to plan the reconstruction.

In the revised plan it is clearly visible that the new road (top in black) has a curve to go around the monumental beech tree. Also clearly visible is the main cycle route in red which runs almost parallel but at quite a distance from that new through road for motor traffic.
As always in Dutch road construction pre-fabricated street elements were used which lead to a very clean and smooth end result.

When the redesign was published for consultation, the planned removal of especially the monumental beech tree triggered a lot of criticism from the public and also from a number of organisations protecting nature and the environment. The tree is almost a century old, 30 metres tall and its beautiful copper crown can be seen from afar (even from the motorway). The healthy tree could easily live another century. It was mentioned on the municipal list of valuable trees, but that didn’t help it explains the chair of an organisation called Bos en Boom (Wood and Tree) in the local newspaper. “Unlike the [neighbouring] municipality of ʼs-Hertogenbosch, where the locations of valuable trees are determined first and the designs follow, the municipality of Vught draws the plans first and only then looks how many trees it would cost.”

The new through road clearly looks the part. This was achieved by completely detaching it from all other traffic. Now that the road is tightly next to the motorway (on the left) there is no need for anyone on foot or on a bicycle to cross this road.

The municipality was certain that there was “no other way”. Relocating the tree would be costly (around 80,000 euros) and there was only little chance the tree would survive a relocation.  A spokesperson for Vught said: “It is not possible to make a different design that would also lead to a safe main cycle route, turn the route Boxtelsteweg-Grote Gent into a good through route for motor traffic and that would give the square two functions; a location for events without the need to close the area to traffic and a parking space for 30 cars.”

The tree was saved but the road was built very close to it. The area that doubles as an event space/parking area became slightly smaller but the judge ruled that the general interest was better served with the tree still standing than with a larger parking space.

This infuriated a lot of people. Especially because the national government had done all it could to save the tree when the A2 motorway was constructed in the 1990s. That had taken a lot of effort. A petition to save the tree was started and the environmental organisations finally went to court. The municipality had argued that the general interest of the public in Vught would be better served if the tree was cut, but the court disagreed. The judge learned that traffic safety would not change much when the road would be led around the tree. Cutting a tree with a special status just so an events area could be a bit larger is not a matter of general interest the judge said. The court ruling was clear: the tree had to be spared. After some consideration the municipality chose not to take this to a higher court, but instead came with a design that did spare the tree and still achieved the three goals. Once again proving that “where there is a will there is a way”, quite literally in this case.

This intersection has changed dramatically. Where traffic needed to make a right turn it now goes straight on to be led away from the town’s centre (and onto the motorway). That made it possible to give cycling priority here.
With the clear design of the intersection that priority is generally given by drivers. Also by the driver of this red convertible.

Although the incentive for this change was certainly also for the car a lot has been improved for cycling as well. At two locations the intersections have been changed in such a way that the cars do no longer automatically drive into the town’s centre. Instead, the most logical route now leads motor traffic around that centre in a natural way. That meant that two crossings now give priority to cycling. The cycleway was slightly widened to 3.5 metres wide and the surface is now in smooth red asphalt where formerly a part was in concrete tiles and the service street was in bricks. One or two rather tight curves have been widened which straightened the cycle route. Thanks to the increased separation of motor traffic and cycle route there is no longer any interaction with the bus either. The former bus stop bypass does not exist anymore. What felt very much as a collection of random streets has now changed into a proper connected main cycle route.

The extended foot bridge has yet to be build.
There is a temporary access to the foot bridge over the A2 motorway (behind the gigantic sound barrier). The extension was planned to be finished by the end of October 2019, but as this photo from early November shows, that goal was not met.

One thing was still missing: the new access to the pedestrian bridge over the A2 motorway. That bridge will be longer to make it possible to also cross the new main road. At the moment of filming that was not yet finished. It was expected that foot bridge was supposed be finished at the end of October, but that has been postponed.

My before and after video of this project in Vught.

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