All about cycling in the Netherlands
Utrecht has a bit more work to do around the canal ring which was festively opened earlier in September. Now that the number of Corona cases went down for a while* more people cycled to work, making the cycleways in the city centre busier again. Most notably on the busiest cycleway in the country; the east-west route crossing the new waterway. A reconstruction of the intersection directly next to the bridge will take place this coming weekend. I filmed the before situation to show you just how necessary that is.
For this post we stay one more week at the restored moat of Utrecht, the reconstructed 900-year old ring canal around the historic city centre. The 5-bridge complex to connect the old city to the station area was designed years ago. The bridges were finished in 2015, but cycling has increased a lot since then at this location. Even though the intersection is relatively new (not even finished yet!), it was never designed for the volumes it has to process today. When I filmed three weeks ago that was very visible. There is not enough space to safely wait when you need to make a left turn. The lights also only regulate the crossing with motor traffic. That means that people who need to cross the east-west main stream of cycling on foot or by bicycle have a lot of trouble to make that crossing. People in the main east-west stream keep cycling up to the lights even when they are red. It would be friendlier if these people waited a bit further back to let the north-south stream flow when the cars going north-south have a green light as well. The video makes clear that many people are not that courteous. Additionally, more space to keep a safe distance in the Corona crisis would be better.
The executive council of Utrecht reports about the Corona measures regularly in letters to the council. In their letter of 16 September there was one important line (on page 6):
“On the intersection Vredenburg-Catharijnesingel we are going to enlarge the waiting areas for cycling by widening the cycleway between Tivoli Vredenburg [music hall] and the intersection.”
A representative of the city was kind enough to explain this a bit further to me when I asked about this coming project. The cycle way is now 5 metres wide. There are walking areas for pedestrians on either side of it, also on the bridge. The narrower sidewalk on the north-side is lesser used and that is the side where the cycleway will now be widened by 2 metres to a width of 7 metres. To make the connection useable, the traffic light poles on the intersection will also have to be moved. I hope (and expect) that the light poles and the stop lines for east-west traffic will not only be moved sideways but also further back, in the way that the light also regulates the crossing with the cycleways for north-south traffic. I am an advocate for not using traffic signals to regulate different flows of cycle traffic, but in this case (and the video shows that) the volumes are so large that the limit to do that safely and in a convenient way has been reached. People who want to cycle alongside the Catharijnesingel (north south) do not get enough room to do so when the light for motor traffic is green on that Catharijnesingel. People cycling east-west block the way even though they have a red light and can’t continue anyway.
Not only can you observe those obstructions in the video, I even filmed a minor collision between two people on a bicycle. I didn’t even notice it at the time but I saw it when I was editing. A young boy cycled from the west and wanted to go north (making a left-turn). Being a young boy he didn’t chose the best route to do so. At around 2:52 in the video you can see him cycling on the right hand side of most people. (He should have positioned himself on the left hand side.) He then quickly cuts left in front of a lot of people but at the 02:58 mark he then collides with someone coming from the east, who wanted to go straight-on. The boy really tips over and falls off his bike, but he is up on his feet immediately after and can be seen shaking hands with the man who hit him. (They must have forgotten about the Corona rules in the heat of the moment.) The boy was clearly in the wrong, but the circumstances (there really is no room to wait safely) made this minor crash likely to happen. I then cut the scene but made stills for this post. On the stills you can see that they are both on their way to continue when the boy realises that that is not possible. The man then gets off his bike again and helps the boy with what appears to be straightening the handlebars. Then there are so many people waiting that we can’t see what happens. After the light turns green and the view is clear again we can see the man continuing east. The boy has disappeared and must have continued too. There was apparently no real harm done, but this is a good illustration that this cycleway widening doesn’t come a moment too soon. On Tuesday 22 September the works were announced on the internet. The intersection will be closed to all traffic at the coming weekend from Friday afternoon to early Monday morning to make the changes. I am looking forward to see the changed intersection the next time I will visit Utrecht. You can see in the video what it looks like until next weekend.
The detours for the three types of traffic (walking, cycling and driving) are very different.
This week’s video, rush hour at Vredenburg.