A new cycling tunnel was opened in Zeist on Thursday 16 December 2021. The tunnel makes it possible to cross a busy road by bicycle or by foot without any interaction with motor traffic. That busy road to Utrecht was widened and an at grade crossing for cycling and walking was unwanted in the new situation, for the safety for cycling as well as for the flow of motor traffic. The crossings of the side streets remained at grade.
The executive council member for traffic of Zeist, Wouter Catsburg, opened the underpass together with Arne Schaddelee, a representative of the Province of Utrecht. The province subsidised the underpass as part of the reconstruction of the road to Utrecht. Both men were assisted by the youngest (9) and oldest (89) participants in a naming competition for this tunnel.
Preliminary works for the reconstruction of the intersection had started in February 2021 while the actual tunnel digging had started in May that same year. During the reconstruction the road had to be closed for three weekends. The tunnel consists of prefabricated concrete elements that were assembled on site.
The tunnel was named Mijnhardt-tunnel, after the owner of a pharmaceuticals factory that was located near the new tunnel from 1916 to 1971. The factory was well-known in Zeist and famous in the entire country for a lip balm that still exists, but which is manufactured at a different location now. The name was chosen 300 times in the naming competition I mentioned earlier. It is customary in the Netherlands that a work of art is part of such a piece of infrastructure. The artwork here is a photo collage. Artist Toos van Poppel, who lives and works directly next to the new tunnel, created the 135 metre long and 270 square metre large artwork that was printed on 78 aluminium panels which were attached to the west-wall. She took 3,500 photos in the direct surroundings of the tunnel and used some of them to show the beauty of the area. The work of art is seen as an ode to Zeist.
There was more than one reason to create this tunnel, and it was interesting to see how different journalists emphasised different aspects of these reasons. One news site looked at the tunnel mostly from a cyclist’s perspective:
The tunnel was created to increase safety for cyclists on the Utrechtseweg. “Thanks to this tunnel, cyclists can safely and comfortably pass under the Utrechtseweg. The intersection can also handle more bicycle traffic. This is desperately needed: the use of bicycles is increasing, and we encourage that as a municipality, because cycling is good for the environment and healthy. In addition, the new design of this section of the Utrechtseweg improves the flow of car and bus traffic,” said executive council member Wouter Catsburg.
The municipality of Zeist appears to look more from the perspective of motorists. On the town’s website they wrote:
We have widened the Utrechtseweg to two lanes from Zeist in the direction of De Bilt [and Utrecht]. A bicycle tunnel under the Utrechtseweg connects the Kromme-Rijnlaan to De Dreef . This allows cyclists to cross the road more safely. We did this in collaboration with the province of Utrecht. The widening of this part of Utrechtseweg improves traffic flow and traffic safety for cars, bicycles, and public transport.
There is never one truth, but it is a fact that the intersection improved for most traffic users. On the other hand, the tunnel would not have been necessary if there hadn’t been so much car traffic here. Fortunately, the municipality took the opportunity to also improve the immediate surroundings of the intersection. A few trees had to be cut, but many more young and healthy trees have been planted to make up for that loss. The entire area also got an innovative rainwater retaining system. Rainwater no longer disappears directly into the sewer system, instead it is kept in the area where it can slowly infiltrate into the soil. That fresh rainwater will benefit the new trees and the greenery that has been planted as well.