Will this place ever be finished?

Utrecht finished the reconstruction of another street. It is a street connecting the historic city centre to the railway station. Finished? Well, not entirely. On one side of the street the construction of a park and some buildings has just started. I’ve heard this place described as being in a constant state of flux. That is not too far from the truth. It was true for the last century, but especially for the last 10 years. Let’s have a look at the area around Smakkelaarsveld.

Billet en français

The street’s new name is “Smakkelaarskade” and this is what it looks like since the summer of 2021. A cycle way, but one where delivery vehicles are allowed. That is why I called it a cycle street in the video. This is one of the widest cycle ways in the city. It is lovely that there is a lot of space for walking and some developing green. The left hand side of the street is to be developed. It will be a canal with a park and some mixed-use buildings; offices, bars and restaurnants and apartments. A building that can be seen on almost all pictures in this series is the greenish square building of 4 storeys, in the distance to the right of the traffic sign. Directly over it you can just see the green of a copper dome of a church that is also visible on all pictures, but not always clearly.
In 2012, the same location was a building site with a temporary street next to a bus road. That bus road was later diverted to the far left of the picture. At this time the street was called “Smakkelaarsveld”. The greenish four storey building is now to the left of the woman on her bicycle. The dome is almost invisible.
The bus road dates back to the 1980s. This picture (a still from a film from 1983) was taken when that bus road was constructed. The main roads for cars were rerouted around this area by that time, but those rerouted routes were very big roads. The greenish corner building is now much better visible because of the zoom lens. You can also see the green copper dome over it very clearly. Still from a video in the Utrechts Archief.
Cars could still use the street until the 1970s. At the time of this picture in the early 1960s, it was called “Leidseweg”. That is still an existing streetname in Utrecht, (in fact, it is a very nice cycle route), but it stops further to the west now and doesn’t go all the way to this central location of the city anymore. The corner building is already there, but the church dome is now a better reference point. Still from a video in the Utrechts Archief.
This is a picture of the “Leidseweg” in 1929, when Utrecht still had trams (streetcars). The two trams in the picture enter a narrow tunnel under the railway tracks. The church dome is again clearly visibile. Still from a video in the Utrechts Archief.

Change is the theme in this post, which is also all about before and after pictures. This originally triangular space in Utrecht has been a busy place since before cars were invented. Ever since Utrecht’s first railway station was opened, in 1843, this space has been used by people to get from the city to the station. The streets here were adapted to accommodate large traffic flows when the bridge to the centre was doubled in size in 1926/1927. After the opening of a new tunnel under the railway tracks in December 1940, the area was especially redesigned for car traffic. By the end of the 1960s, it had become clear that the growing number of cars required more space than there was available. From the 1970s on, private cars were rerouted around this area. First on very wide roads, some of which looked like motorways. (For a while, the so-called Catharijnebaan had actual motorway signs at the entrances.) In this century, the roads have been downgraded one by one, by rerouting through traffic, not just around the area, but around the city. The pseudo-motorway has been removed and the original water way is back.

How this area changed over and over from 1920 to 2020. An animation which I made from the maps on the site Topotijdreis.nl. Sometimes the maps are a few years behind the facts. The city motorway only shows up in 1980 while the first part was opened in 1973.
In 2012, this street was called Stationsplein (Station Square), which it had been until the 1970s, but since then the station was quite well hidden and it looked more like a street than a square. From 1983, it was also the location of a light rail station. A small part of the two tall builings can be seen on the next picture.
This space is now called Smakkelaarshoek and gives access to the world’s largest bicycle parking. The stairs in the distance lead to an actual station square now that is raised to the level of the station hall, that is situated over the railway tracks. The square is covered by the white roof with circles. Behind it you can just see a fraction of the two buildings which are also visible on the previous picture. The light rail tracks have been moved to the right, for about 25 metres, behind the new building. Private motor traffic is completely banned here. The space is now for walking and cycling only.

In the 1980s, the streets had been redesigned for transit (bus and lightrail) mainly, but now the area is being redeveloped again. It has been under construction for as long as I write my blog. The bus and lightrail got a separate street and track (partly shared and in a tunnel) and the cycle routes were rerouted several times. After the final reconstruction, in April 2021, the streets became mainly for active travel; walking and cycling. Some of these streets are cycle ways, but they can also be used by delivery vehicles, because shops in a mall have to be supplied. However, the area is now mainly for people rather than machines.

The exit of the Leidseveertunnel around 1962. The whole area was designed for the car. The moving car in the foreground and the parked car in the distance. It was like this until the early 1980s. I cycled here twice per week as a young teenager in 1977, when I had to cycle from my school in the city centre to a sports hall on the other side of the railway tracks. Still from a video in the Utrechts Archief.
Especially after the lightrail was opened in December 1983 the area loooked quite a bit different. The main road from Vredenburg to the tunnel had been closed and traffic was rerouted via the Daalsetunnel. Only driving from the station to the tunnel was still possible. Preliminary work for the big reconstruction was taking place in 2011, when I took this.
Ten years on and the former car road has been reconstructed as a bus only road. The raw built of the underpass under the buildings that still need to be constructed is already finished. It will also be used for the lightrail once the two existing lines will be connected, which is now expected in mid 2022.
This is the renamed Smakkelaarskade in 2021. Previously Smakkelaarsveld. The area in the foreground will be water again. Hence the new suffix kade (quay) instead of veld (field).
The same street was called Leidseweg when this picture was taken in May 1974. It prominently shows the Jugendstil (art nouveau) building of the insurance company De Utrecht very shortly before it was demolished. You can see two Chimeras on the roof, left and right of the letters De Utrecht. Picture Utrechts Archief.
One of the two Chimeras in 1974 and 2021. The statues and many other details of the original building were preserved when it was demolished in 1974. In the summer of 2020, the two Chimeras were replaced on the new plinth of the building that was finished here in 1978. What you see in 2020 is not a reproduction, it is the exact same Chimera, which is now placed on almost the same location as before. From 1974 to 2020 it was kept in the Utrecht Centraal Museum.
This cycle way crosses a bus road, tram tracks and a road in 2012. I had filmed one of my most viewed videos here in 2011. That video has currently been viewed well over 1.6 million times.
In 2021, the crossing has changed completely. There is now an overpass for the buses and from next year the trams will also use this overpass. The combined tram/bus track will in future be under a mixed use building that will be developed here from now on and which should be finished in 2024.

The street redesign is now finished, but there is a whole area in between the streets that will become a park (again) with three mixed-used buildings. The main bus route and the light rail will run under the new buildings and the sloping park. That part of the development has already been built, so that the bus and tram services can continue while the rest of the construction will take place.

In 2015, I took a video from the top floor of the city’s office building. At the time the ocean of bicycles was still there. The building with the double curved roof was a temporary bicycle parking garage. All of that bicycle parking has been removed since September 2019, after the world’s largest bicycle parking garage at the station was opened.
That same central area is empty in 2021. At the location of that former asphalt road the canal will come back eventually. The redevelopment got the name Spark which is short for Smakkelaarspark.
This is a rendering of the finished Spark as it may look after the buildings and the sloping park are finished, which is now expected for 2024. Trams and buses use a tunnel under the buildings and the park. That tunnel is already there, so that buses and trams can remain in service when the building activities take place. Picture Lingotto.
My video portrait of the ever changing Utrecht Smakkelaarsveld. Some of the streets have finally been finished!

4 thoughts on “Will this place ever be finished?

  1. It’s so impressive that many Dutch cities still strive to improve things further, despite them already being so far ahead of us here in the UK. The vast majority of our road layouts are still stuck in the 1960s and 1970s, as our local governments don’t have any ability to spend money unless they can get a grant from the national government in London. That means whenever any new developments like cycle lanes do actually happen, they are built very cheaply and badly in order to do as little as possible – and we would certainly never get something expensive like a road being replaced by a waterway. I am aching with jealousy!

  2. Whenever I start reading these blogs, most times I have several questions but before I get finished they have been answered.
    Always a great source of information and entertainment.

    Thank you, Mark

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