A new bicycle tunnel was opened in the village of Nistelrode, early March 2022. It was the final part of the F50 fast cycle route from Oss to Uden that still had to be finished. If you like football (soccer for my North-American and Australian followers) the village’s name may sound strangely familiar. Former international football player and now coach Ruud van Nistelrooy (who played for Manchester United, Real Madrid, Hamburger SV and Málaga) was named after this village. As the name suggests, his ancestors did most likely come “from Nistelrooy”. His version of the name shows how the locals pronounce the last syllable. I am rather critical about the tunnel. It may look nice and convenient at first glance, but you will know that we have very high standards in the Netherlands and this tunnel does not meet all of the latest design recommendations. Those recommendations exist for a reason, and it shows: a crash was already reported in the short time that this tunnel has been in use.
So, what are the requirements that aren’t met? The English version of the CROW manual advises to build bicycle tunnels with an “unimpeded view through [the] underpass” and they should have a “straight course: exit must be visible upon entering underpass”. That is not the case here. The tunnel has a curve like the main road it runs parallel to, but also because the car intersection over the underpass is a roundabout. The second shortcoming may be temporary. The only light fixture in the underpass did not look like it would provide sufficient lighting nor does it look very sturdy, whereas said manual states that “lighting in [an] underpass should be vandalism-resistant (recessed)”. The road was not raised. This means the tunnel has to go deeper than when the road would have been raised. Another minor point of criticism involves the walls. Although it is not a requirement, it is really striking that the tunnel has bare walls. I have shown you that most tunnels in the Netherlands have wonderful works of art on the walls (such as the ones in Zeist, Zaltbommel and Eindhoven). Bare tunnel walls almost provoke people to spray graffiti and that is exactly what happened in this tunnel, even before it was officially opened. What I had never seen before though, was graffiti specifically aimed against a bicycle tunnel. Someone painted a Dutch expletive (comparable to the F word in English) in front of the Dutch equivalent of “cycling tunnel” on the tunnel wall. I have no idea why someone would hate this tunnel so much that they would want to make that known to everyone using it, but it may well have to do with that crash.
Two mopeds collided head-on in the tunnel just two months after it was opened, most likely because you cannot see the other end of the tunnel because of that curve. “It must have been quite a collision” wrote the local newspaper, because one of the vehicles was destroyed. A trauma helicopter was called for, but it did not have to arrive in the end. Ambulances took the two drivers of both mopeds to hospital with unknown injuries, a passenger on one of the mopeds stayed unharmed.
The tunnel should have been safe enough for mopeds (legally using the cycleway) as well as for fast e-bikes and ordinary people cycling. This first crash in the tunnel may have had to do with the fact that people weren’t used to the tunnel yet. In 2018, when the plans for the tunnel were made public for the first time, the alderman was joking about this unfamiliarity in the local press:
“It did confuse some people. We are not used to tunnels in Bernheze” (the name of the municipality).
That the council was also not used to planning a tunnel was clear from the budget. To get from the initial sketch to the final plans the expected cost increased with €2.3 million. The estimate for the cycle route and the tunnel together had been €1.3m, but late 2018 one of the smaller local political parties noted that the route alone would be €2.1m and the tunnel €1.5m. The tunnel became more expensive mostly because it had to be built at a different location, which made it longer.
The problems didn’t stop there though. In September 2021, after the building activities had started a month earlier and the road over the tunnel had already been closed, an advisory board checking building permits found serious construction errors in the plans and the permit for it. The tunnel walls and ceiling would not be able to support the traffic driving over it. Consequently, the Omgevingsdienst Nederland rejected the permit. A blunder from the Bernheze council, it was called. New calculations and a new permit issued by the municipality took two months, in which the building works were suspended, while the main road into the village was closed.
In November 2021, a new permit was issued and the building could continue. The tunnel walls were partly prefabricated, but the concrete floors were poured on site. The road into the village and the roundabout were reopened in February 2022. The cycling tunnel was then opened early March, apparently without much fanfare. I couldn’t even find an exact date. The tunnel became even more expensive, the delay being one reason. Apparently the tunnel has cost around €2m in the end.
The tunnel appears to be well-used, and it is of course not all bad. Some of the tunnel’s main features are according to the latest design recommendations. The walls recede (slightly) towards the top, the inclines stay below 5% and there are no niches and no big plants at the entrances. Their foliage could obstruct sight lines and give muggers a hiding place. There is also sufficient space between the outer edge of the cycle way and the walls of at least 0.5m.
This new tunnel turns the F50 into a genuine fast route thanks to one fewer crossing of a main road, which makes it possible to cycle non-stop for longer.