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.
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.
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 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.