All about cycling in the Netherlands
Finally, I was allowed to go to Utrecht again for work! It was only for one time, but I hadn’t been in my place of birth for almost two months. This had happened only once before in my life. You can’t imagine how happy I was to simply find my bicycle back in the world’s largest bicycle parking garage after that long a time. It really paid off to park it at a similar place every time. I didn’t have to look over all 12,500 places! After work I took the opportunity to cycle a bit through the city. Utrecht is changing so much and so fast that I was really surprised at some locations. One of which was on the Zeedijk (Sea Dike). That had been closed off for about five years and that was now reopened as a cycle street (Fietsstraat) with a surface of red asphalt and where cycling has priority.
If you know the location of Utrecht – in the middle of the Netherlands – the name Sea Dike may seem strange. It wasn’t so strange before the 1930s, before Lake IJssel was closed with a dam. Until that Enclosing dam did what its name implies: close the Zuiderzee, the tide of that sea was noticeable in the river Vecht. The street runs on a dike on the shore of the Vecht, hence this name. The street is much older than you might think. It can be found just outside the walled historic city centre, but this was in fact Utrecht’s first suburb which got its own wall in the 1330s. At the time Utrecht (like any other city) mostly had wooden buildings. This area became the location for businesses that were a fire hazard. If there would have been a fire in one of the workshops in this suburb, the whole city would not be endangered. An early example of zoning. The area remained industrial for many centuries, but it has now become a residential area. Best known were a silk factory (1681-1816), a timber factory (1851-2009) and an industrial bakery (1948-2004). Of the latter the main building has been repurposed. The office has become a restaurant and the former bakery hall will become housing. The name of the bakery, Lubro, was originally on a different building of the factory, next to this one, but that name will come back in the same type of letters as before.
Utrecht is growing rapidly and many former industrial locations close to the original city centre are being or are going to be repurposed. The industrial activities have disappeared or they have been relocated and these areas, so close to the city centre, are perfect for new housing. To build the new city blocks in this location more easily the street was completely closed off around 2015. The street was finally reopened in its entirety just a few weeks ago.
It is only a short street, about 280 metres (or 919Ft) long, but the transformation was quite impressive to me. The former street alongside the industrial area that I had used so often before had a brick surface and took you past large ware houses that were no longer in a very good shape. The new street takes you past brand new housing with a density that is unusual for the Netherlands. The blocks of apartments have up to about 6 floors and that is two more than usual. (Buildings up to four floors could be built without a lift and that saved contractors a lot of money.) I think these somewhat taller buildings look nice and other people seem to really like this new area too. Of course not everything is perfect. There were many bicycles parked on the streets and I wasn’t the only one to notice this. Apparently the access to the (mandatory) bicycle parking is not convenient everywhere and people chose to park their bicycles on the street instead. That is of course not what you would want in a newly designed area. Apart from making the area look cluttered, it has other negative consequences. Herbert Tiemens reported that residents complained about bicycle theft at a neighbourhood meeting. Something he feels the developers are responsible for when they design bicycle parking poorly. Even in the Netherlands there is always room for improvement.
The new neighbourhood was named after one of the earlier former activities here; a silk factory. “Zijdebalen” means “silk bales” and that refers to the bales of silk which were shipped out of the factory and onto ships in the river Vecht. It was also the name of the mansion with extensive gardens that the factory owner had built for himself in the 17th century. In 1816 the so-called “buitenplaats” was destroyed after the last member of the family died. This destruction was weirdly decided by testament.
If I am not mistaken, this new cycle street next to the river Vecht will become part of one of the cycle routes from Overvecht to the city centre, which I rode and showed earlier on my blog, but at that time this particular street was still closed so I took a diversion. Enjoy the short ride on the new cycle street!
This week’s video: a short ride on the Zeedijk in Utrecht.