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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.