A new cycle street in Utrecht

billet en français

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.

The Utrecht Zeedijk is one of the city’s newest cycle streets. The housing on the right hand side is all new. Apparently there is no room to park a cargo bike inside though.

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.

The most northern part of the Zeedijk in 2009. The bakery to the right had already been abandoned four years earlier. (Picture Google StreetView)
In 2015 the street had been completely closed off to be able to more easily convert the place to a residential area. (Picture Google StreetView)
The street in 2020 shortly after it had been reopened. The bakery to the right will be redeveloped as a restaurant and housing. The little white house is one of the few remaining buildings from the 19th century. In the far distance you can see the Utrecht Dom tower in scaffolding. The former bakery is going to look beautiful. See a side by side comparison here.

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.

Halfway on the Zeedijk was a big warehouse of the timber factory that had been there since 1851. In 2009, when this picture was taken, the factory had just been relocated. (Picture Google StreetView)
The same warehouse in 2014 when it was being taken down. (Picture Google StreetView)
At this location a whole new block with apartments was built. (Picture Google StreetView)

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.

On this city map, showing Utrecht in 1572, I highlighted the Zeedijk (left in the walled suburb) in red. North is to the left on this map. From a publication from 1582 now digitally available on the site of the Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg.
The Factory Zijdebalen (Silk Bales) to the left in the 1740s. The Zeedijk would run to the left of it again in the same direction we’re looking here. We can see the gardens and the Utrecht Dom Tower as the tallest of two church towers in the distance. The other one is the Jacobi church that would not get a spire until the 1950s. Picture Utrechts Archief.

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.

The situation in 2005. When this area was still very much an industrial area. You can see several warehouses. Picture Google Earth.
There are now four large blocks of housing. Which make this area much more part of the city, because all around it the buildings were already residential. Picture Google Earth.
This is a rendering that was published by the developer consortium before everything was built, but it looks remarkably like the reality now. The Zeedijk is in the foreground. The taller buildings on the horizon are in the Utrecht central station area, which is very close.

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.

There was my bicycle. I had left it there one day in early March not knowing I would not come to collect it for almost two months. That meant I wasn’t really paying much attention where I put it. Fortunately I did pay enough attention after all. I was able to find it back. I was so happy about it that I took a picture!







3 thoughts on “A new cycle street in Utrecht

  1. Nice, those silent streets! But the chain of your bike definitely needs some drops of lubrication.

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