For this week’s post I cycled on an international cycle route; the 30-kilometre-long fast cycle route from Nijmegen in the Netherlands to Cleves (Kleve) in Germany. The final part, 11 kilometres to connect the German towns of Kranenburg and Cleves, was opened in June 2019 and got the name Europa–Radbahn. The Dutch part of the cycle route had been opened years earlier. That has an unexpected and unusual consequence: the German part is much wider than the Dutch part!
In 2019, on the occasion of the opening, a Dutch news reporter cycled from Nijmegen to Cleves and he commented:
This path could be an environmentally friendly alternative to the car, but that would require a face lift on the Dutch side.
He wrote that because: “Where the new German asphalt is over three metres wide, the route on our side of the border is only 1.97 metres wide. It is barely possible to cycle side by side.”
Confronted with this fact, Sylvia Fleuren, the executive council member of the municipality of Berg en Dal, (of which Groesbeek is a part) confirmed that she “plays with the thought to widen the path on the Dutch side of the border”. That hasn’t happened 3 years later, though. The concrete part on the German side of the border widens instantly to about 2.5 metres and then, when the surface becomes asphalt, to well over 3 meters.
The newest part of the route in Germany, from Kranenburg to Cleves, was mostly financed by the German federal Government. The total budget was about 6.5 million euros. On a governmental website the path is proudly listed as a good practice. The site (in English) summarises the project as follows:
The Europa-Radbahn is an important addition to the cycling network in the region attracting different target groups (commuters, tourists, families, school kids, etc.) and is tailored to the region´s needs. It connects the cities of Kleve & Kranenburg with the Dutch city of Nijmegen.
Increasing the intermodal share of cycling is a key objective of the city of Kleve and the municipality of Kranenburg. The modern route is suitable for all kinds of bicycles & cyclists but is especially well equipped for e-mobility. The cycling highway is ca. 23 km in total, starting in Kleve (DE) and ending in Nijmegen (NL), also crossing rural areas around the municipalities Kranenburg (DE) and Berg en Dal (NL). A special feature of the cycling highway is that cyclists are prioritized over motorised traffic, e.g., giving cyclists priority at traffic lights at junctions.
Along the route, there are rest areas with parking facilities, e-bike charging stations and several bicycle rentals. The lighting along the route is constructed to be minimally invasive in the environment. It runs alongside the old train tracks on which currently a rail trolley is used for touristic means. A comprehensive communication concept was elaborated using continuous presswork, targeted brochures and explanatory films highlighting benefits and advantages of the new route for different target groups
Budget of total project in Germany: €6.52 million
Funding by Federal government: €4.3 million (around 70 %)
Funding by the country North Rhine-Westphalia: around €921,000
Funding by municipalities: €1.3 million
In the first year after the route was finished there was some controversy according to the local German press.
A prestige project worth millions has been heating up tempers for weeks: the approximately 11-kilometre-long Europa Radbahn. While it has only opened last year, it already seems to be a thorn in the side of many users. RP readers report dangerous encounters between cyclists and walkers, a forest of traffic signs, inconsiderate dog owners or not very well-regulated traffic lights.
It turns out not to be so bad at all, but those traffic lights confused me too, initially. You would have to cycle particularly slowly for the lights to be green before you reach them. I only noticed the lights respond to cyclists when there were other people cycling at quite some distance ahead of me. That the lights detect people cycling and on top of that give them priority over motor traffic crossing the route is very exceptional for Germany. But since that is standard practice in my hometown I was not as impressed as I maybe should have been. I apologize if my remark in the video about this being state of the art for Germany, comes across as arrogant.
I don’t think there was a forest of signs, but I didn’t like one particular type of signs: the stop signs at most crossings in Germany. Incidentally, the German Cyclists’ Union also protested, just two weeks ago.
Another main thing should also be improved: the route is not very well-known. There is not a single sign in the Netherlands showing the way to Cleves on the Dutch part of the route, nor are there any signs pointing to Nijmegen via this route in Germany. A staff member of the rental railway bicycles told the reporter that he found it a shame the route didn’t go all the way to Nijmegen. When he was then told that the route does take you all the way there he answered: “Oh really, war mich nicht bekannt (I did not know that).” In the end, the local reporters on both sides of the border seem to agree that the route is a success, but there is certainly room for improvement.
A large part of the railway line is again in use, but not by trains. Since 2008, you can cycle on a rental railway bicycle in Summer, as mentioned earlier. The so-called Grenzland-Draisine can be used for different tours. The shorter one, from Groesbeek to Kranenburg includes a border crossing, the longer tour, from Kranenburg to Cleves, runs entirely in Germany. Obviously, the line can only be used in one direction by the lorries, but during the day the direction in which people can cycle on the railway changes.
Some people in this area would like the railway line to be reopened (possibly as a light rail link). Just last month the route was discussed in Dutch parliament. The line could be revived, also with the cycle route, because that cycle path has not been built in the place of the former railway, but right next to it. The current bus connection from Nijmegen to Cleves can take up to 1 hour and 45 minutes, even though the cities are only 20 kilometres apart (and you can cycle the distance in 1 hour and 20 minutes). Unfortunately, the Dutch national Government, the Province of Gelderland and the municipality of Berg en Dal (Groesbeek) are against a revival at this moment. This became clear from a letter by the Dutch minister to Parliament, in July 2022, that the German press wrote about.
The railway from Nijmegen to Cleves was the oldest railway connection in Nijmegen. It was opened in 1865. Before the first world war, the line was an important international connection from Amsterdam to Cologne via Amersfoort, across the Rhine at Rhenen and then via Nijmegen and Cleves.
The line lost most of its importance when that Rhine bridge was destroyed in the second world war. The bridge was never rebuilt, and the detour was too long. From the early 1950s, trains from Amsterdam to Cologne went via Utrecht and Arnhem instead. The second track of the line was removed from 1956 to 1965.