How much did Utrecht change in a decade?

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.

Billet en français

This before and after starts west of the railway station on a street called Westplein (West square). It has never been a real square, it was more a big road for cars. The reconstruction here still has to take place. The project is in the planning phase. Only the trees were already cut for some reason.

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.

All but one of the buildings in this street, Van Sijpesteijnkade, have been demolished. The one remaining building was a monument that has now been integrated into a new high-rise. The rest of the street is currently under reconstruction. I filmed the morning rush hour in this street in 2010.
Left: Van Sijpesteijnkade in the before situation. Only the white building was spared. In the right picture you can see how it is now part of the plinth of a tall residential building. The brown building to the left of it is also finished but the buildings on the right of it are now being built.

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.

The cycle tunnel under the railway tracks has become considerably longer due to the addition of two new tracks at the city centre side.
There is still a bit of tunnel now where it had already ended in the before situation. Right next to the tunnel an overpass was built for trams and buses.

The level crossing with traffic lights for the bus lanes, the tram and private motor traffic has been replaced by the overpass for buses and the tram. Private motor vehicles can no longer reach this part of the city.

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.

This street got a new name. It used to be Smakkelaarsveld where the last part means field. It is now Smakkelaarskade which means quay. That is because the old canal that used to run parallel to the street on the left hand side will return. New housing will be built on the other side of the canal which will get the address Smakkelaarsveld. The black squares of dirt in the after picture were already quite different two days later when the city had planted nice new greenery!

Vredenburg is now considered the busiest cycleway in the Netherlands. Just a decade ago that wasn’t the case at all. It was just a narrow cycleway past the building site of the city’s music theatre.

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.

When C&A expanded in 1968 and incorporated a building to the left of its original building from 1939, it chose to build a new – brutalist – façade on the Vredenburg side. Around the corner the 1930s façade remained untouched. When C&A left, a developer chose to reconstruct the 1930s façade, but it is now almost twice as wide as the building used to be. So does that mean it is a restoration?
The façade of the building next to C&A was also completely reconstructed. The 1980s building used to be a mall with corridors and many different shop spaces. Now that the whole building is occupied by a single department store it was stripped to the concrete bones and completely reconstructed inside and out in 2018.

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.

The ground floor and the glass in the tower of this building from 1928 were beautifully restored. The bigger mirror windows from the 1980s were removed from the tower and replaced with glass that looks much more like the original.
The building of this department store, designed in the 1930s and opened in the early 1940s was clad in ugly blue plastic in the 1980s. It is now being restored to its beautiful early 1940s state. It is now clad with cream coloured ceramic tiles and there is a lot of glass again.

On this square called Neude the cycleway was widened with a left turning lane. The surface is all level, possibly because the designers wanted this to look like a square and not too much like a street.
Another façade update in Lange Jansstraat (just visible in the distance in the previous picture), Not everybody liked this restoration. Some people would like to protect examples of late 1960s and early 1970s façade alterations. But thanks to the return of the windows and by adding an attic, the top three floors can now be used for housing again.

Some of the route did not change at all. The little van from a window cleaner was very much in the way. I even injured myself when I hit the rear view mirror. I only realised that later when I saw blood on my knuckles.

Nobelstraat does not seem to have changed at all. But the building on the left corner is practically new after it burned down in a spectacular fire in 2019. It was reconstructed exactly as it was. This street is on the list to be updated. But little is possible with so many bus lines using this corridor.

The biggest change in this route may be here in Nachtegaalstraat. That used to have protected one-way cycleways on either side of the roadspace. But it has been upgraded to a cycle street. Many more people cycle here than drive here with a private vehicle. This update warrants a blog post on its own. I will film when the works are really done.
Ride on the main cycle route through the Utrecht city centre. Comparing images that were filmed roughly a decade apart.

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”.

3 thoughts on “How much did Utrecht change in a decade?

  1. I see that the situation at Janskerkhof hasn’t changed, where the cyclist must veer left at an obtuse angle across a car lane, and turn their head very far to the left to ensure any driver there is yielding properly. This doesn’t seem like something that should be kept – but perhaps it’s not an issue since it looks like there are major vehicle restrictions on what types of vehicles are allowed to proceed in that lane.

    One thing that has definitely changed: The resolution of the videos!

  2. There are many cities where the 2010 version would be a massive improvement!

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