Riding in the snow in Utrecht

During the week we had snow, early February, I was briefly in Utrecht and I managed to cycle and film two routes. One from the east to the railway station and one from the west to the railway station. Both routes were well cleared of snow and ice as you would expect from a city that wants to be a world class cycling city. This isn’t an elaborate post. I will mostly say things in the photo captions, but I will explain something about the undersurface heating of the bridge I pass in the second video.

Billet en français

The Utrecht Dafne Schippersbrug. The sharp turn left (which the two cyclists in the distance are just about to take) was dangerous because this part of the bridge could get so cold that it would become icy before any other place in Utrecht. Electric undersurface heating was installed to prevent this. That is why at this location the pedestrian space is now also snow and ice free. You can see this bridge in the second video.

I’ve written about that bridge on top of the school when it was opened. The Dafne Schippersbrug was built at the location of an older school. That school was in the way at the best location for a new bridge which was needed to reach a new part of the city. To solve two problems at once the old school was replaced by a new one with the access ramp to the bridge integrated in the school’s design, partly going over its roof and partly over the school yard. The bridge was a huge success, but one thing didn’t turn out as expected. The on-ramp over the school was very susceptible to freezing and it became slippery before any other street in the city was icy. This was due to the location, the prevailing winds and the fact that these winds could cool the bridge deck from below. After the first winter in 2017  – in which police had to tell people to dismount for their own safety – the city decided in 2018 that this problem had to be solved for good. Undersurface heating of the cycleway was to be the solution. It seems like a missed opportunity that electric undersurface heating was chosen. Not a system with a heat pump or even a solar powered installation. The bridge had to be closed for two and a half weeks in October 2018 to install the system, which cost €200,000. It would have been cheaper had it been installed during the initial construction of the bridge. The electricity bill for this system was estimated to be €36,000 per annum. (From which I deducted that it is not solar powered.) This may seem like a lot of money but the cost to society of a lost life or injuries requiring hospitalisation are also considerable. In the Netherlands the societal cost of one life lost is on average 3 million euros and the cost of an injured person who has to be admitted to hospital is on average a little over 200,000 euro, according to an expert in a TV program. In that light this investment is not at all expensive. Fortunately, the system has also proven to work well. The bridge is no longer slippery and can be used safely. Enjoy the photos and the videos of these two rides in the snow in Utrecht.

The water of the pond in the Utrecht Wilhelminapark was frozen over and many people had cycled there to go ice skating in the sun. This was my starting point from which I cycled 2.5 kilometres West, to the East side parking garage of Utrecht Central Station.
The cycleway through the park was cleaned well. It is a two-way cycle path marked with a sign that reads “cycle path”, not the more common round blue sign with a white bicycle. The difference being that on this type of path mopeds and scooters are not allowed. The city doesn’t want those in the park. This type of sign is actually meant to be used for paths that aren’t mandatory, but the moped restriction is a nice bonus that is somewhat ‘misused’ here.
Since only the roadways are cleared, the footpaths are not easy to use. Therefore, many people used the roadway to walk on. This is generally accepted. I believe that in the Netherlands we are less strict about road spaces. People are allowed to walk on them when there are no side walks such as in the historic city centres or in the countryside. But also, such as in this case, when the side walks are virtually unusable, especially with a stroller.
This street has on street cycle lanes which were not completely cleared. This street is about to become a cycle street. On this picture there are many more people on bikes here than there are in cars. The street is effectively already a cycle street. People used the full width of the (cleaned) street for cycling.
The connecting street will also become a cycle street. Here, the reconstruction is taking place, but on hold due to the snow.
The cycleways in this street are already narrow under normal conditions, but with the ridges of snow, left after cleaning most of the street, they became even narrower. It was not possible to pass people and so I had to just stay behind these people even though they were going rather slow in my opinion. Just this week Utrecht published a vision for the city centre for 2040 and in that vision most of the buses in this street will be on a different route and there will be much more space for walking and cycling here.
This street is only for buses and cycling/walking. Note that it is not customary in the Netherlands to clean the bus stop platforms. In fact, snow is not cleared from pedestrian spaces at all. That is just how it is here. The short stretches of cleared pedestrian space to the right must have been cleaned by residents or shop keepers, not by the city. In 2040, main bus routes will no longer be in this street according to the Vision for the Future by the city. This will create more space for walking and cycling.
This route ends at the world’s largest bicycle parking on the east side of Utrecht Central Station.

The first video with the ride from Wilhelminapark to Utrecht Central station.

 

This is just a random street in Utrecht Leidsche Rijn, the suburb in the west of the city. From here it is a 3.7km ride to the west side of Utrecht Central Station.
Stop signs are very rare in the Netherlands. They are only used where the sight lines are very bad. I made a left turn here. In the video it may seem that I did not stop, but I did make a legal stop! As a cyclist in the Netherlands you officially stop when one of your feet touches the ground. I made sure I tapped the surface briefly with my left toe after which I continued. There was also no other traffic so I did not have to come to a full standstill.
Leidsche Rijn was developed from the 1990s on. By that time it was customary that original roads in a former rural area were preserved and re-used as cycleways. This used to be such a rural road before this area was developed as a residential area. The rural feel is still very much present. At parts, residents may use this road with motor vehicles to reach their homes, as a guest in cycle space.
Bi-directional cycle ways such as this one are only partly cleaned. They are then narrower than usual, but still wide enough to pass oncoming people.
I rode behind these two boys for quite a while, also over the Dafne Schippersbrug. These boys cycled side by side for the most part, but they made sure that oncoming cyclists could pass them. After people had passed they would cycle side by side again.
The route uses this cycle street in a residential area. You can see that the side streets were not cleaned. This street was only de-iced because it is a main cycle route.
This bridge is only for cycling, but since it is a main cycle route it is perfectly cleared of snow. I wrote about the reopening of this bridge in an earlier blog post.
This street surprised me. It is a main cycle route in both directions so I would have expected it to be cleaned in both directions. It wasn’t, but there were two clearer parts created by car tyres on the right hand side of the street. I quickly regretted choosing the left track, because it was just at the transition between the brick median and the red asphalt. Other people had a better solution: see the next picture.
After a short while it became clear that the locals had a better idea: they used the cleared part for cycling in both directions! The motor traffic (in one direction only) used the part to the right of it. Not ideal, and maybe also not quite following normal traffic rules, but it worked.
Where main motor traffic routes and cycle routes meet it always becomes a bit messy in the snow. If you think that these car routes are exceptionally wide for Utrecht you would be right. This is 1960s design that is about to be downgraded in the final part of the reconstruction of the Utrecht station area. In the coming years the car space will be reduced drastically here and the cycle routes will become more straight and logical.
This ride ended on the West-side of the station in front of the bicycle parking entrance. The parking garage is located under the steps of the giant staircase you see in the distance. (See my post about the opening in 2014.) Here too, the cycleway in two-directions is only partly cleared, but very usable.

The second ride from the west to the centre.

Map with the two rides in Utrecht.

2 thoughts on “Riding in the snow in Utrecht

  1. Hello Mark,

    I really enjoyed this blogpost and especially both the videos as they were very interesting from several perspectives. Thank you for taking the time and effort to produce all of these (and all your more recent blogposts I’ve managed to catch up on – oops, I see there’s a new one about the new parking facility at Zwolle).

    Please continue to take care over there, on and off the bike, in these tricky times.

    Kind regards,
    Jim

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