Utrecht wants less cycling on the busiest cycleway of the Netherlands

Utrecht wants to reduce cycling on the main east-west corridor in the city centre aka the busiest cycleway of the Netherlands. Mainly due to a number of barriers (such as railway lines and canals) cycling in the city centre is concentrated on just a few main streets. Last September, the crossing from Vredenburg to Smakkelaarskade (until recently named Smakkelaarsveld) was widened to 7 metres, but we all know that more asphalt isn’t the answer to too many cars, it is probably also not the best answer to too much cycling. The figure for Vredenburg is 35,000 people on bikes per working day (counted in 2016). Just before the Corona crisis started it was feared that this number could increase to as much as 45,000 in the next few years. The city has therefore been working on alternative routes for quite some time now.

Billet en français

This cycle crossing towards Vredenburg in the distance was widened to 7 metres in September 2020. As the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain correctly states mainly because of a lack of nearby alternative routes that are equally convenient.

On this blog I usually show infrastructure that has been finished, but when the Utrecht branch of the Fietsersbond (Cyclists’ Union) asked if I could do a presentation for their (virtual) New Years’ get-together I dived into Utrecht’s known cycling plans for the foreseeable future. Thanks to my vast archive of video images, dating back to 2009, I was able to show how incredibly much the city of Utrecht has changed with respect to cycling in the last decade. When you study the many plans Utrecht has for the near future it is very clear that the city will change again dramatically in the coming years.

The dark brown areas marked A in this plan of Utrecht are the areas where cycling and walking are the number 1 type of transportation. The areas marked B will be designed in such a way to keep out through motor traffic. Only the C part has enough space to allow any type of transportation. Picture: Mobility plan 2016 Utrecht.
Principles of the updated Mobility Plan for 2040 (translated by me). It is very clear the that private car is absolutely not a priority in Utrecht. The number 3 picture is subtly clear: through cycling won’t really be encouraged inside the historic canal ring in the future. Picture: Developing Mobility Plan Utrecht 2040

In the previous mobility plan (from 2016) the city designated the city centre as a zone for walking and cycling. In the mobility plan for the period until 2040 (currently in development) that is expanded in the sense that through car traffic will have no place in a large part of the city. This led to the announcement, just last week, that the city will close off yet another connection for car traffic. This time at the south-end of the historic canal ring. The public was asked to give their opinion on six possible solutions. The city has announced it sees “option 4” as the most viable option. That option would completely block one location on Ledig Erf for cars and make turns impossible at one other location, which would effectively end the east-west motor traffic route there. Only residents would still be able to reach their homes on (for cars dead-end) cycle streets.

In January 2021 the city of Utrecht published 6 possible solutions for the gap in the cycling network at the south end of the canal ring. The city asks the public for their opinion, but this is the city’s preferred solution: a block for motor traffic and cycle streets allowing residential car traffic only. Picture: Municipality of Utrecht

When I cycled the full canal-ring last September it was clear to many that it is not up to standards yet. In the north of the canal-ring there is another missing link. One street can be updated, but there is a bigger challenge around the lock in the river Vecht. The city already expanded beyond the city wall around the year 1300, leading to one location where the road around the canal-ring is interrupted. Pedestrians can walk over the lock doors to cross the river Vecht, but in hundreds of years there has never been a bridge. Last Summer, when the press found out the city had been investigating a possible bridge since 2016, the residents and many other people made clear that they think a new bridge at this historic location would not be a good idea. I agree. I think the city’s investigation itself shows there are more than enough alternative routes in the north. When the city wants to designate the historic city centre as a place for mainly walking that area should include Utrecht’s first walled expansion.

An illustration of possible routes at the north end of the canal ring (in green). Just below 2.1 there is no bridge now. So people now would need to take those two red lines and the yellow line on top of it. I think the number of routes is an indication that a bridge there is not needed. Picture Cycle Plan Route North Utrecht.
I really cannot see a modern bridge here in the middle of this picture. There was even a possible version of the bridge that would have a T-junction on it and arms going into three directions, including to the waterfront in the foreground of this picture. Not a good idea!

Many streets leading to the historic ring are currently under construction or will be upgraded for cycling very soon. In the south-east, at the beginning of the Maliebaan the city connects the two parts of the Maliesingel that had already been reconstructed. The Maliebaan itself is also up for reconstruction. That will give a very good alternative for people wanting to go to the south of the centre, coming from the University campus and other locations in the east. For others, who need to go more north, the Nachtegaalstraat will lose its narrow cycleways. It will become a cycle street, so that cycling can take place on the full width of the street (similar to the Voorstraat, reconstructed last year). The reconstruction is in progress right now. The street should be finished by May 2021.

The Nachtegaalstraat is currently under reconstruction. The cycleways will be removed (too narrow for today’s volume of cycling) and the whole street will become a cycle street. There are far more people cycling here than there are motor vehicles.

In the south-west a project to reconstruct the Westerkade and the Oosterkade (West and East Quay respectively) will commence early 2022. This reconstructed street will give a very good route for people in the south-west of the city to the city centre. It will also better connect the new railway station Vaartsche Rijn to the city centre for walking and cycling. A street with a very old-fashioned design west of the railway line, Kanaalstraat, will also be changed. For motor traffic the street will become one-way so that the space that becomes available by needing one fewer car-lane, can be used for walking and cycling.

After the ring will be completely upgraded, as well as many more connections in all directions, the city hopes the cycle traffic inside the canal ring may disperse. That is indeed likely. One big missing link will remain though. The purple route in the south-west that would require an (estimated 50 million euro) underpass under the railways. However, the map makes clear how very much needed it is.

All these plans are aimed at giving extra options for people to safely walk and cycle to the city centre. In the centre itself the city plans no main cycle routes. I agree with the city that the streets in the historic city centre are already good enough to allow cycling wherever you would want to do that. Especially with the recent reconstructions of a number of streets with an older design. A few exceptions still remain, where a line of parked cars make the available space for an oncoming car and a person on a bicycle just a bit too narrow.

Not all the city centre streets are convenient yet. This is Zuilenstraat where the line of parked cars and the high kerb leave only a narrow space for cycling in two directions and cars in one. When you cycle here and a car approaches it doesn’t feel very safe. You only need to look at the broken mirror of the car in the foreground to get what I mean. Removing the parked cars, or even just levelling the kerb would be a huge improvement here.
The difference between Zuilenstraat in the previous picture and Haverstraat in this picture is very clear. Both streets are similar in width but this street is much more convenient to cycle in. This street is part of the Herenroute, a route that was promoted as an alternative to the busy main east-west route, but that was never really successful yet. The planned conversion of Maliebaan into a cycleway may well be a tipping point to make this alternative route more attractive than the current main route.

There is one giant gap in the network though, that will not be remedied by all these plans. The railway line west of the centre cannot be crossed for about 1.6 kilometres. A few years ago the Moreelsebrug was opened, but that is not a real cycling bridge. A better solution would be an extra underpass about halfway in that 1.6km stretch. The location is so evident that an urban expansion plan for Utrecht from as long ago as 1920 already shows this connection. Late 2019, it became public that Utrecht had an amount of 46 million euros to spend on possible cycle tunnels and bridges. Ten such connections ended on a short list, including this one. But this one tunnel alone is expected to cost about 50 million euros. So it is clear that Utrecht needs additional (national or provincial) support to fund this possible underpass. Just one glance at the map shows how welcome this extra connection would be. It will be useful for even more people once the car-free residential area for 12,000 people is developed in the west. This underpass is certainly not off the table yet.

Plans for the modernisation of Utrecht from 1920, with the cooperation of world famous architect Berlage already show a possible passage of the railway at the end of Nicolaas Beetsstraat. It is still the most logical place to build a cycle underpass over 100 years later. Detail of a picture in the Utrecht University library.
It would be nice to incorporate an existing former railway bridge from 1928 that is currently not used and in a very poor condition. The nameless bridge is a municipal industrial heritage site that would benefit from a new purpose.

So, when you see pictures or videos of the busiest cycleway in the Netherlands in future, you now know that the city of Utrecht is doing everything it can to try and reduce cycling at that location!

My video showing how Utrecht tries to reduce cycling on the busiest cycleway of the Netherlands.

10 thoughts on “Utrecht wants less cycling on the busiest cycleway of the Netherlands

      1. I do not think they were edited out of the video. I think they were, with intent, simple not filmed. Thank you for your response.

  1. About time. Steven Fleming has long ago criticised the boasting of the high volume on Vredensburg and Dronning Louises bridge in Copenhagen by funnelling bicyclists.
    Not only should Moorelsebrug have stairs. It would also fit perfect with bicycle parking above the platforms perhaps evening several storeys. They will enable a switch of mode in 30-60 seconds instead of several minutes, time that is extreme expensive to gain with higher train speed or straighter rails!
    Train company should see that opportunity. Or track company, I’m not sure how train traffic is organised in NL.

    1. There are 6 indoor bike parking facilities totaling for around 22.000 bikes around the station (and a lot parked outdoors).
      It’s really not that bad. Come visit.

    2. I’ve not heard Fleming say this, although he could have. He also once said that the Rotterdam-level cycling rate of only 20% was all non-NL cities could ever hope to achieve, before that city decided in the last few years to take action to double its lowly cycling rate.

      I often boast about the people-carrying capacity of Vredenburg, about 60,000 per day in just buses and on bikes, and that doesn’t include the probably thousands of pedestrians. This is an enormous number of people to move in an urban street, let alone one in the heart of a busy, thriving CBD like Utrecht has. It is more than any surface arterial road moves in probably all of Australia, which shows how inefficient private motor vehicles are and how much more efficient cycling is. A lesson that autosupremacist transport engineers need to learn in a hurry!

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