All about cycling in the Netherlands
The city of Utrecht finished yet another reconstructed street. The Voorstraat used to be the main east-west route through the city centre for centuries, but ever since that route was severed for cars in the 1990s, the volume of car traffic decreased and kept decreasing. On the other hand the number of people cycling keeps on growing in Utrecht. The design of this street no longer matched the traffic volumes and that made a redesign necessary.
Utrecht closed Vredenburg to car traffic in 1996 after it had already been closed in one direction in the 1980s. Slowly but steadily the streets in the city centre are getting more and more car free or at least the volume of car traffic decreases dramatically. The design of the 620 metre long Voorstraat (including the part that is called Wittevrouwenstraat) dated back from 2002. At the time a counterflow cycle track was put in. That cycle track had become too narrow for today’s cycling volumes. On an average day there were about 16,500 people cycling here and the number of cars was around 3,500. The number of buses per day was 132. That means the bicycle to car ratio had become 1 car to almost 5 bicycles. Yet the design was clearly focussing on cars. Further license plate investigation showed that even with those numbers there still was through car traffic in the street, so the car volumes could be even lower with appropriate measures. This is the area of the city where the council decided walking and cycling are the most important types of traffic. Cars come third. It was high time for a redesign.
The Utrecht Voorstraat is a well-known street in the Netherlands. A six part documentary about the rougher edges of the street was broadcast in 2014. Today the street has 526 registered residents and 91 entrepreneurs. With users of the street they were asked what they thought of certain aspects of the street in January 2017. On a scale from 1 to 10 the street scored below satisfactory (6) on every aspect. Below are the rates the respondents gave:
People were then asked how they would like to re-allocate the space in this narrow street. (The width varies from 9 metres to 18 metres). The fact that so many people want less space for car traffic is remarkable. Even the entrepreneurs think that 71% of their customers come by bicycle and 59% on foot. They think only a small minority (27%) comes by car (more answers were possible, so the total is more than 100%).
With these wishes in mind and also considering what was mentioned on the community meetings, the city made a new design. Which was again discussed and finally approved. The actual reconstruction started in April 2020 and the street was reopened on 19 October. In the new street there is much more space for walking: at least 2.5 metres on one side of the street (but mostly on both sides). The counter cycle track was taken out. There is now only a single road space for cycling in both directions and cars (as guest) in one direction of just 5 metres wide. The speed limit is 30 km/h. The surface consists of red asphalt to make clear that motor traffic is guest here. The street has priority over all side-streets. Not by using the ordinary regulations with traffic signs, but because all side-streets have a so-called ‘exit-construction’. This is a typically Dutch solution where a level change and a kerb (curb) between the surface of the main street and the side streets make clear which has priority over the other. This leads to far fewer traffic signs in the street and therefore less street clutter.
This interesting video shows the before situation compared to the plans for the redesign.
To make a cycle street safer most of the buses were relocated. The street was used by three lines. Two of those lines resulted in 125 buses per day, but only about 100 to 150 passengers boarded or alighted the buses in the one bus stop. That made a relocation without much impact possible. Only one minor bus line, with 7 buses per day, will keep on using the street.
The number of car parking spaces decreased considerably. There used to be 40 parking bays of which 6 doubled as loading and unloading bays. In the new situation there are 18 of which still 6 double as delivery bays. There are specific times for the latter to inform when they are for parking and when they are for loading and unloading. The parking is now on the pedestrian space, not the roadway. That may seem strange, but investigations show that the parking bays are only filled for 50% at times (even less when I filmed the rides) and at those times the space is immediately added to the space for walking.
There was not enough bicycle parking in the former situation. The 219 spaces were almost always full and sometimes almost 6 times as many bicycles than there were racks were parked in the street. From now on there are 370 parking spaces for bicycles. The city placed new steel bars to park bicycles against. They had very nice panels with Utrecht’s pride on them: the tallest church tower in the Netherlands, the Dom tower. There was just one little problem. The panels rendered the steel bars useless. In the sense that they made it impossible to loop your lock through the bars. Even in the Netherlands such inconsiderate mistakes are made. Before the street was re-opened all the panels were removed so the bars could at least be used. The panels could return in an altered way.
Every other detail in the street is there to make the street more pleasant to be in for people. One example: the height of the kerbs is only 7 centimetres at maximum. This makes it easier to cross the street wherever you like. More trees will be planted to make the street greener as so many people said they would like to see it. Some trees will be planted, while on other locations they need to be placed in boxes. These trees had not yet been planted or placed when I filmed. The entire reconstruction is expected to be finished by mid-November.
My video portrait of the reconstruction of Voorstraat/Wittevrouwenstraat.
A ride in the streets in both directions, before and after the reconstruction.