All about cycling in the Netherlands
A new part of a fast cycle route was finished in the ever expanding network of fast cycle routes in the province of North-Brabant. The cycle routes are primarily built to offer people an alternative to driving to work but they are also often used by schoolchildren and for recreation. For this post I looked at the F261 from Tilburg north to Waalwijk. The section I focus on today is the most northern part, from Kaatsheuvel to Waalwijk.
In a short time period I stumbled upon two news items about this route, one good and one bad, both taking place on 6 June 2019. That afternoon an important underpass in the developing F261 was opened in Kaatsheuvel (in the municipality of Loon of Zand). This meant an end to the level crossing that needed to be used by a lot of schoolchildren with the entrance road to the parking lot of one of the country’s main family amusement parks, the Efteling. This famous park is twice as large as the original Disneyland park in California and predates it by three years. It is the third most visited theme park in Europe, behind Disneyland Paris and Europa-Park in Germany, attracting more than 5 million visitors per year. This high number of visitors causes a lot of traffic. To festively open the underpass, the alderman for traffic, Gerard Bruijniks, handed out free ice cream to the first 100 people cycling through the new underpass. It was no coincidence that the opening took place at a time that school children cycled home from school.
The other news fact was much less positive. In Waalwijk, at the end of the route, on the night of that same day, 6 June 2019, the council decided to shorten the cycle route considerably. This decision was taken after very fierce opposition from residents in Waalwijk. The F261 would be routed through a residential street (Besoyensestraat) as the most logical route to an existing cycle viaduct over the A59 motorway directly north of it. The street would become a cycle street to reach the industrial area of Waalwijk where a lot of people work. This fast cycle route was after all meant to give people a viable alternative to reach their work places. It has happened before in Brabant that the name “fast cycle route“ rubbed people the wrong way. The F59 would run through Geffen as a cycle street, but was not yet built because the residents feared the “fast cyclists” would be more dangerous to their children than the car traffic already using the streets. Also here in Waalwijk the residents were furious about the plan. They claimed their busy street with the existing traffic, the many parked cars and side streets would become too dangerous when “fast cyclists” would be added in the mix. Only one political party wanted to stick to the agreement with the province to build a route all the way to the industrial area, all the other parties sided with the residents. They reasoned that the route wasn’t worth the social unrest or the investments because there are more than enough existing routes to reach the industrial area by bicycle. Strangely enough the local chapter of the Cyclists’ Union did not fight for the route either, on the contrary! A spokesperson stated that a detour around the residential area should be chosen: “That may be a few hundreds meters longer, but for a cyclist in a nice flow that makes no difference. A fast cycle route is used by people cycling longer distances. When you cycle from Tilburg to Waalwijk those few hundred meters are nothing. Such people rather cycle a few hundred meters more than having to cycle with their hands on the brakes in a residential area”.
I really wonder what type of cyclists this spokesperson was thinking of. This would more describe the racing type riding the entire route than the school child or the employee in normal clothes getting to work on just a part of the route. It is very clear that we need a new term in the Netherlands for this type of cycle routes, when even the local chapters of the Cyclists’ Union don’t seem to understand what a “fast cycle route” is for. The province of Gelderland chose the word ‘path’ (Rijnwaalpad, Maaswaalpad) in their names and seems to have fewer problems with residents or with people who are disappointed because they were expecting all crossings to be multilevel. Words are very important. That ice cream was specifically given to school children using the same route in Kaatsheuvel the very same day this unfortunate decision was taken only underlines that cycling is understood and treated very differently in the many different municipalities in the Netherlands.
The entire (shortened) F261 is supposed to be finished by the end of 2020. That is why I decided to have a look this summer. I doubt that will be the case. In the south of the municipality of Loon of Zand I found a road with no cycling infrastructure at all yet and cycle paths that clearly need an update. One thing was already taken care of and that is the special signage on this route. This new type of signage was tested in a living lab in Tilburg in 2018. (I wrote about that project at the time.) The F261 is the first cycle route to get this experimental signage all along the route and I must say it does help a lot to find your way. The new signs were highly appreciated and the test results of this wayfinding investigation were published (in English) in the Journal of Transport Geography of Science Direct.
The highlights of the investigation:
I will continue to follow the further development of the F261. From news items I believe the part in Tilburg is indeed finished. I saw markings on the surface on the part in Loon op Zand that needs to be updated. Markings on the road are always a sign that change is on its way: I have written about this before. Early next year I will have a further look. In this week’s video I focus on the part that I found finished this summer and on what the new signage looks like. In my ride this coming Monday I will show you the part from Kaatsheuvel to Waalwijk in full. That video will also show how it connects to the F59 from Waalwijk to ‘s-Hertogenbosch (because I needed to cycle back home anyway).
This week’s video about the F261 Fast Cycle Route Tilburg – Waalwijk