Cars are no longer wanted in the city centre

The city of Eindhoven has redesigned a street in the city centre that used to be part of the inner city ring-road. Space that was previously primarily dedicated to moving cars has been re-allocated to walking, cycling and a lot of greenery. Fast and high quality public transport has also become more important in this area. This project gives a first impression of what Eindhoven may look like in the future; a city where functions of the urban public space changed considerably.

Billet en français

The Eindhoven Vestdijk after the reconstruction; a lot of space for walking and cycling. There is now a wide bi-directional cycleway but only one lane for private motor traffic remained.

The same part of Vestdijk before the reconstruction. At this location it had two lanes for motor traffic and one-way cycle paths on either side of the street.

Eindhoven is the fifth largest city in the Netherlands. It lacks the historic heart most Dutch cities have and is as such a bit underestimated. Like many cities in the Netherlands it had dedicated a lot of space in its streets to the car in the 1960s and 1970s. At the time it was believed that only a city that was allowing cars deep into the centre would thrive economically. That way of thinking has changed. Many Dutch cities have already reversed their policies by closing off large parts of their city centres to the car and by creating low traffic neighbourhoods in other parts of the city. The car can still be used to reach most properties, but in a very regulated way. The tendency to push back the car even further will not stop. The plans for the future of many Dutch cities show that. Eindhoven had also formulated a vision for the future.

The north part of Vestdijk looking south. Here the zone between the cycleway and the roadway is used as a bus stop. At other locations there is bicycle parking or (such as in the distance) greenery.
A cross section of Vestdijk from the reconstruction plan. There is room for walking, cycling, parking bicycles, an outdoor seating area, a lot of green, a bus lane and finally one travel lane for private motor traffic.

In November 2013, the document “Eindhoven op Weg” (Eindhoven on the road) was adopted by the council. The report describes the city as it could be in 2040. The place for all types of traffic is summarised in an interesting table. Similar to the plan for Utrecht this table mentions the role of the private car last. The pedestrian, the cyclist and the public transport traveller are seen as more important than the motorist. A motorist in 2040 is described as a “conscious user”. The car is to be used “less often” and on “main routes”, they should be “cleaner” and “parking” will take place “at a distance”. In four types of city space the role of the private motor vehicle is summarized as follows:

  1. City centre and inner city ring-road: no longer a continuous road, no expansion of parking facilities.
  2. City parts and radials: 30km/h inside the ring-road and ‘car is guest’ except on modern or new radials.
  3. City parts and the ring-road: fewer and/or more simple connections to the ring. Introduction of a fourth category of roads: neighbourhood access roads.
  4. Region and motorway ring: optimising the (inter)national road system fine-tuned to city accessibility.
The matrix for 4 different areas in the city and the 4 different modes of transport; walking, cycling, public transport and driving a private car. Note that motorists are mentioned last. I translated the information that is mentioned for driving in the text. From the Vision for Eindhoven in 2040.
The former ring-road as indicated by me on a map of OpenStreetMap. The green part (Vestdijk) has recently been reconstructed.
The design for Vestdijk (north is left). From ring-road for moving motor traffic to a beautiful space for people.

These points reflect what you see in other parts of the Netherlands. Cars are seen as a means for travel in rural areas and between cities on a very good national road system that will even be improved, but the car is pushed out of the city centres. Parking is increasingly at the edges of cities and walking and cycling is prioritised inside the city. In the case of Eindhoven one of the reasons to do this was to improve the very poor air quality in the city centre caused by exhaust fumes.

Google Streetview shows the before situation in 2014. Three lanes for private motor traffic and one contraflow lane for buses. A one-way cycle path on either side of the road way and the remaining space is for walking.
The present situation can also be found in Google Streetview. Just one remaining lane for moving motor traffic and a contraflow lane for buses. A wide bi-directional cycleway and much more space for walking. The remaining space is used for a lot of new greenery.

It has been 8 years since that vision was published. Eindhoven is working to turn it into a reality. What that leads to can now be seen on the reconstructed Vestdijk, the south-east part of the former inner city ring-road. The actual reconstruction started in 2018. To test out the new design the road was first narrowed and partly closed with temporary measures. Originally the street would also get a modal filter. People would not be allowed to drive the full length of the street. In part this was done to get the pollution levels of exhaust fumes down. But at the location where motorists were forced to make a turn in the trial many of them broke the law and drove against traffic for several metres. This caused dangerous situations for other road users especially people walking and cycling. The future of the filter was divisive; even an organisation like the shop owners society had proponents and opponents. In February 2019, the motorist’s bad behaviour led to a revision of the plan. Unfortunately, it was not made impossible to break the law, on the contrary, the council decided to remove the filter. The right wing political parties in the council of Eindhoven had even made it a topic in the local elections. Residents and environmental organisations went to court to force the council to keep the modal filter. They felt supported by studies about the amount of pollution allowing through traffic would cause. But the court ruled that the council could make the decision and it is now possible to drive the total length of the street again. In the mean time the six phase reconstruction was well underway. The project had started in September 2018, the final parts of Vestdijk and the connecting street to the south (Hartogstraat) got their definitive design in June 2020.

The public was informed about the stages of this reconstruction project. Since Eindhoven has a large expat population the information was also translated in English.
There are tactile markings for people who are visually impaired. Ridges in the direction of travel and dotted tiles to indicate every crossing. This makes it easier to reach the bus stop in the space between the cycleway and the roadway. The signs urge other people to keep this walking route free of parked bicycles, mopeds and other clutter.

The former inner ring-road is now a much more attractive space to walk and cycle in. I filmed in early spring, but in the summer the new greenery will be much more lush again as it was last summer. Hackney cyclist visited this project in the summer of 2020 and he wrote an interesting blog post about it. It contains many before and after images comparing his last visit to one in 2016. These pictures clearly capture the difference in atmosphere. I only had a few snippets of video of the before situation, but they did make it possible to make a before and after comparison in video, clearly showing the huge difference in sound!

There is also a buffer between the cycleway and the space for walking. This space is used differently at different locations. Sometimes for greenery, other times for a driveway or bicycle parking.

Eindhoven does have the ambition to also redesign the west-part of the former ring. Unfortunately, I did not find any concrete planning for that reconstruction yet.

My video about the reconstruction of the Vestdijk in Eindhoven.
Video showing a ride on the new Vestdijk in Eindhoven.

One thought on “Cars are no longer wanted in the city centre

  1. In the eighties I became active for the Fietsersbond and spend numerous evenings with fruitless discussions on the crossings of the Vestdijk because they all were bottlenecks. So I decided that “bottlenecks” should be a forbidden topic. We tried to formulate a consitant network and show what effect missing links have on such a network. A friend designed a network analysis tool on paper but without computers it was not feasible then. I became very involved into the local politics as “mr. Fietsersbond” at that time. My personal pivotal point came a few years later when the area inbetween Kanaalstraat and Vestdijk was redeveloped. All building traffic made a right turn from the Vestdijk into the Bleekstraat. Within half a year two cyclists were killed and one acquintance havily injured for the rest of her life. My view on road use was changed forever.
    Now thirty years later and moved once again, at last this has become a welcoming area for people without cars.
    Thank you very much for this report. It means a lot to me and I cannot wait to see the other parts of the ring changing although the bike paths are already much, much better the in the eighties/nineties.

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