The area around the railway station in Coevorden was thoroughly upgraded. The transformation took several years and it was finished in 2020. The new tunnel under the railway and the beautiful landscaping are what stand out most in this project, but there are also new bicycle parking racks. With the relocation of a rail-yard further away from the town two freight tracks could be removed and some old warehouses could be repurposed. The addition of two art installations concluded the project in an attractive way.
Nowadays Coevorden is a small town in the north-east of the Netherlands in the province of Drenthe. The municipality is home to around 35,000 people and the town itself has just 15,500 inhabitants. However, in the past Coevorden was an important fortified city! In fact, it was one of the biggest cities in the region. The town may be small and unknown now, but there’s an interesting connection between Coevorden and Vancouver.
Vancouver “takes its name from George Vancouver […]. The family name “Vancouver” itself originates from the Dutch “van Coevorden”, denoting somebody from the city of Coevorden, Netherlands. The explorer’s ancestors came to England “from Coevorden”, which is the origin of the name that eventually became “Vancouver”.
The railway station of Coevorden was opened in 1905 on the line from Zwolle to Emmen. The three train services that stop at Coevorden station are operated by Arriva. There are also 4 regular bus lines and there is a bus type that only operates when people reserve a ride. That type of public transport is a hybrid between bus and taxi.
The Coevorden station area was reconstructed as one of 20 projects in a huge scheme to upgrade the railway connections in the north of the Netherlands, an investment of one billion euros.
A new tunnel under the tracks was one of the more striking elements of the station area reconstruction. Construction started in October 2018. The main tunnel tube, with a weight of 800,000 kilos, was shoved in place in just one weekend in April 2019. The tunnel is 5.5 metres wide, and situated 4 metres below street level. The tunnel is 23 metres long, very light and inviting to be used. The art on the wall refers to the past of the city that was under siege multiple times. The tunnel walls depict the many explosions during those sieges in a graphic display.
Coevorden opened the tunnel in February 2020. In one of the opening speeches one alderman thanked the organisation “Platform Gehandicaptenbeleid” (Platform disability policies) for their advice to help make the station area and this pedestrian tunnel in particular very accessible to everyone. It was only when I read this that it dawned on me: the ramps to get down into the tunnel had not been poorly designed for cycling. They had – in fact – been exceptionally well-designed for people in a wheelchair, a mobility scooter, or for people pushing a baby carriage! All the people I had seen cycling up and down the ramps were in fact not using them as intended. The grooves in the stairs were meant to push your bicycle up and down and people were supposed to push their bicycles to the other side of the tracks in the tunnel. It is quite embarrassing that when something is finally designed well for a minority with disabilities it is so widely misunderstood as being for the majority of people who cycle in this country.
What really was designed for people cycling were the many new bicycle racks on both sides of the tracks. In the past there had not been enough bicycle parking racks. The council didn’t like all the bicycles parked outside the racks. Those bicycles were confiscated regularly, a policy that was quite controversial. When owners wanted their bicycles back they had to pay a fine of €30. Only after it was pointed out that there weren’t enough parking spaces for everyone the council stopped doing this temporarily.
In the first stage of the station upgrade (late 2018) the racks on the town centre side were finished. There are two-tier racks for 238 bicycles. Regular racks can hold another 160 bicycles and finally there are 28 bicycle lockers that people can rent. The bike parking racks on the other side of the tracks became available in 2020. Their number is unknown to me. Strangely enough no OV-Fietsen are available at this station. I have no idea why that is, but it is the reason why I did not cycle in Coevorden.
What makes this project exceptional is the lush greenery and the many flower beds on both sides of the railway. All that green makes the tunnel entrances very attractive. That is reason for some criticism. One blogger called it all: “a bit much to cover up the fact that a new shopping mall was in fact planned at the wrong location” (behind the station) and for “giving people a way to flee the dreariness of Coevorden’s town centre”. This is not the general feeling about the station area transformation. A local newspaper wrote that most of the residents of Coevorden are very content with the upgrade. That makes sense, it looks beautiful. It is just a bit strange that what was meant as a pedestrian tunnel is more used for cycling. That could be an indication that a latent demand for a cycling connection at this location had not been recognised well enough. That so many people were cycling in the pedestrian tunnel didn’t lead to conflicts the day I filmed. Let’s hope it stays that way.
This week’s video shows the reconstructed station area of Coevorden.