Happy birthday Utrecht! Today the city celebrates that it was granted city rights on 2 June 1122 by Holy Roman Emperor Henry V when he visited Utrecht, exactly 899 years ago. Next year Utrecht will celebrate its 900th anniversary in a big way (including events such as the start of the Vuelta) even though the city is actually much older. It was founded by the Romans in the year 47 AD, almost 2,000 years ago. In this post I don’t go back quite that far, but I will look at how the main cycle route in the city centre changed in the last decade.
In 2009, when I started documenting cycling in Utrecht, the huge reconstruction works around the Utrecht Central Station had already started. I filmed the route through the centre of the city for the largest part in 2010. Even though the transformation had already started, that video was meant as the “before” situation. I was hoping I could film an “after” video a few years later. But, fast forward to 2021, the works have still not been completed! I now think this route will never be finished, so I decided to simply film the current state, 11 years later.
The video portrays a very busy and hectic route though the centre of the city. It is certainly not an example of best practices, some parts of this route have capacity issues for instance. Although there are really good parts, it mainly shows compromises of what you can do in a busy city centre. The ride begins at Westplein, where the reconstruction is still in the planning phase. Riding east I pass Van Sijpesteijnkade, where building is taking place right now, which means there is a detour around the works. I then pass under the tracks in the railway tunnel that became longer. The tunnel gets me to the city centre side of the route. On Smakkelaarsveld half of the works are almost finished (to the right of the route), while the other half (building a whole new residential area and offices on the left hand side of the route) has only just begun. The situation changes so quickly here that just two days later my video was outdated. What were black squares of dirt when I filmed last Wednesday were nicely planted areas on Friday.
I then take the bridge over the reconstructed canal that was still a motorway when I shot the before video. It’s almost a pity you can’t see the road in that before video. I then reach the busiest cycleway in the Netherlands that looked nothing like that a decade ago. In the city centre quite a few buildings got a new, reconstructed or restored façade. After the station area was all fresh and new developers started to upgrade the rest of the city as well, which is a nice side-effect of that huge project. You can’t really see that well in the video, that is why I added some pictures of those building in this post.
The rest of the city centre route has changed little so far, even though the cycleways are really not up to standards regarding width and surfaces. Much can’t be done there as long as so many bus routes use this corridor through the old city. But the developing mobility plans for Utrecht in 2040 paint a very different picture for these streets. Bus traffic may be re-routed around the historic city centre and that would give much more space for walking and cycling. That is also why I now think that this route will never be finished, this would be a project for the next two decades! Today’s route ends in the Nachtegaalstraat just east of the historic city centre. That street is currently under construction, but the works seem to be in a final stage. The street has lost its protected cycleways and has now become a cycle street. (Just like Voorstraat did last year.) This may seem counter-intuitive, but it really is an improvement for cycling. Here too, the cycling volume had outgrown the cycleways and car traffic was drastically reduced. The new design fits the use of the street again. I will write a post about this project as soon as it is really finished.
You can find more explanations about what you can see in the video in the captions with the stills in this post and there are also a few words in the video. Enjoy the ride.
Much more has changed in the last decade in Utrecht. I wrote about the city I was born in extensively. You can find these posts by searching and using the tag “Utrecht”.