A couple months ago, I had the opportunity to spend some time in the Utrecht area of The Netherlands. While there, I was able to spend a lot of time seeing not just the big-ticket items that tourists see, but was also able to see things more from the perspective of a local. One of the things that I endeavored to do was get a clearer view of what commuting around a Dutch city by bike would be like.
The video below shows one such commute from the Kanaleneiland neighborhood to De Uithof Science Park and University Medical Center. The route can also be seen on Google here, but a distinguishing characteristic of bikes in the Dutch transport puzzle is that there are many other options. Such is the case here and while this route was one that was straight-forward, many other options exist, some of which are potentially shorter.
00:00 – Geallieerdenlaan/Eisenhowerlaan/Bernadottelaan/Beneluxlaan (Kanaleneiland Winkelcentrum)
The trip begins at the place where I was staying in the Kanaleneiland neighborhood of Utrecht. It is right down the street from the eponymous Kanaleneiland Winkelcentrum (“mall”), which also includes two apartment and office towers above it. The actual street where the residence is located is pedestrianized, though it theoretically can be used as a through route by motorists too. One end is at another street, the other is in a parking lot. However, it was only on rare occasions where someone did drive in and then it was usually just to get to the garages located behind the houses.
The front door opened onto this street and directly across it is a community center and an elementary school. In this part of town, it’s safe enough to leave bikes outside overnight by themselves. As such, the front porch was also the parking area for the bikes. The wheel lock was all that was necessary to secure the bike and still find it again the next day.
After getting on the bike and going up the street, one comes to the intersection with the street for motor traffic, Eisenhowerlaan. This street can best be viewed as a yield street as it is only 20 feet wide and allows parking on one side.
Nevertheless, it is a two-way street and though parking was usually full, traffic could negotiate past each other and make it down the street. The intersection itself is a raised intersection, which further works to keep motorists speeds down. (So effective that it was not uncommon to see people use the adjacent parking lot as a detour around the street itself.) Also off Eisenhowerlaan is a driveway to the garage and courtyard of the residences, which is where the riding in the video begins. Needless to say, Eisenhowerlaan has no actual bicycle facilities, bicyclists just take part in traffic.
Eisenhowerlaan then leads to Bernadottelaan. Bernadottelaan is a bit wider than Eisenhowerlaan, but the intersection of the two is also a raised intersection. However, Bernadottelaan is one of the main entrances to the community, so it does get more traffic than Eisenhowerlaan, including delivery trucks bringing goods to the stores at the Winkelcentrum. Still, there are no bicycle facilities on Bernadottelaan itself as it is part of the 30 KPH zone (as is Eisenhowerlaan).
Bernadottelaan is the gateway to the community, so the bicycle infrastructure begins at the intersection where Bernadottelaan meets Beneluxlaan, a major thoroughfare in Utrecht (that changes names at least eight times). The intersection is signalized for motorists and only allows right turns in/out due to a light rail line down the middle of Beneluxlaan. However, bicyclists leaving the community can avoid the stop lights and just enter the separated bikeway, which has a side entrance off Bernadottelaan. They and pedestrians can also cross Beneluxlaan, meaning that it’s potentially easier for residents “on the other side of the tracks” to bike or walk to the Winkelcentrum than to drive.
From there, one joins the bikeway on Beneluxlaan, a 12-foot wide bidirectional facility that runs on both sides of the street. It includes signals at the major intersections, but driveways and some minor side roads are just raised crossings designed to allow bicyclists to continue on interrupted while slowing down motorists for the turns, made possible by the raised design of the bikeway.
01:56 – Kol. Wilheminalaan
The first major intersection is a rotary where Beneluxlaan meets Kol. Wilheminalaan, which is where the path will be turning left. Although everyone has a signal, left turns are not made appreciably longer because there are bidirectional bikeways around the outside of the rotary. In the video, I take advantage of that when I arrive as the light turning yellow and continue through across Beneluxlaan and the tracks. (Note that since the bikeway on both sides of Beneluxlaan is bidirectional, crossing the street and tracks at the Bernadottelaan intersection and reaching this point is totally doable as well. However, in practice, it was usually faster to continue to the rotary and cross one of the arms of the roundabout.)
After crossing Beneluxlaan, a short bikeway provides a connection to a 30 KPH frontage road of Kol. Wilheminalaan. This outer street is about the same width as Eisenhowerlaan and both bicyclists and motorists are allowed to use it in either direction. About three blocks down, a pinch point with bicyclist bypasses at the intersection with Van Bijnkershoeklaan is the gateway to the community and allows only one motor vehicle to pass through at a time. However, the access road continues through this intersection with priority over the intersecting road, which itself is the entrance from the main Kol. Wilheminalaan.
After crossing Van Bijnkershoeklaan, it appears that the access road was once a through route for motorists, but two islands have been used to close it off for about half a block except to bikes and mopeds (saw marks can be seen in the asphalt). As such, is officially designated as a mandatory bikeway, but it’s in actuality just a closed road. This forces to go the long way around to enter/exit the community and also provides good continuity of the bikeway. After the blocked portion, the access road is a yield street again with similar features and profile to before.
The yield street continues for a couple blocks, then ones comes to a roundabout. This one is just at two-lane roundabout with priority for bicyclists. For those who’ve been paying attention, that means that the traveler is now on the “wrong side” of Kol. Wilheminalaan. However, the bikeway around the roundabout is bidirectional, so it doesn’t matter. But from here on, the bikeway is only one-way, so here we cross Kol. Wilheminalaan to the right side of the street. (In practice, a lot of people would ride the wrong way and some would even start out the right way but cross over on the bridge itself.)
04:35 – Balijebrug/Balijelaan
After crossing to the correct side of Kol. Wilheminalaan, the bikeway and road rise to the height of the Balijebrug over one of the arms of the Kromme Rijn that runs through Utrecht. The bridge also passes over the Kanalweg bikeway that runs adjacent the canal through the entire length of the city that offers a stop-free way to transit past the city and can be reached from the location.
The bridge consists of a lane in each direction for motor traffic, an inbound bus-only lane, buffered bike lanes, and sidewalks. At this point, the name changes from Kol. Wilheminalaan to Balijelaan. After the bridge, raised the bike lanes transition back into raised 12-foot wide separated bikeways, which are more generous than the ones on the western approach, not least of which being because they’re paved instead of tiled. At the bottom of the bridge, these transition away from the main road back to access roads again. As this is another residential area, these access roads are one-way (except for bikes) 30 KPH zones in the direction of travel.
After about a block, there’s a raised intersection with a side street and all motorists must join the main road. At this point, the access road becomes parking-protected raised bidirectional bikeway for about a block. It continues through the intersection with Rijnlaan, where after a little over a mile of travel, we find the second traffic signal of the journey. In the video, it happens to be green by Utrecht standards when passed and everything turns out better than expected.
This bikeway then continues on for a block to the T-intersection with Croeselaan that includes a left-turn pocket. Croeselaan is the most direct roue to Utrecht Centraal from this area, so there is an elevated number of people waiting to cross here in the mornings. Of course, those going straight don’t have to wait at the light at all. Right before the signals is the intersection with Croesestraat. Croesestraat is another residential 30 KPH zone, so the intersection consists of a raised table with priority for the bikeway.
5:45 – Vondellaan
After passing the T-intersection, the road changes names again. The bikeway is at this point again a raised parking-protected separated bikeway. In the video, there are some markings on the ground that suggest that the bikeway used to be a bidirectional facility, but it appears to no longer be one. Still, several people who apparently haven’t received that memo can be seen salmoning along. There’s also a driveway for a parking garage for the building to the right midway down the block. After continuing around the corner, another left turn pocket and signal for bikes is reached, which happens to be red.
7:50 – Kruisvaartbrug/Bleekstraat/Catherijnsingel/Ledig Erf
The stop for me lasted 65 seconds, but based on the number of bikes already in queue when I arrived, it was likely red for much longer. The long red light times were highlighted by a dramatic approach taken by the Dutch police in Utrecht last year, where they set up after a set of three lights in succession and ticketed cyclists who ran them. That led to dramatic pictures around the web and worked well with a demonstration against long reds in Utrecht.
Of course, as can be seen in the video, many people take matters into their own pedals and ignore red lights when the way is clear. The presence of many tire marks through the planter convey the same message.
After getting the green, we cross over the Kruisvaart and under the railway. The light on the other side of the tracks really wasn’t quite clear if it was red only for lefts or for all bicyclists. Taking the liberal of the two options, I continued on Bleekstraat. Here, the bike infrastructure is comprised of an “advisory” (dashed) bicycle lane. It’s a suggested area for bicyclists, but not legally required. However, there’s little point in not riding in it since after about a block, it transitions back into a separated bikeway to bypass another T-intersection (though bikes can also go right there to access that neighborhood).
At this point, Bleekstraat technically ends and the street that continues is Catherijnsingel. The bike infrastructure also transitions to a mandatory bike lane, though it’s still possible to pass others. This continues as the road curves for a little over a block. After the intersection with Westkade, the bike lane transitions back into a bidirectional raised separated bikeay on the bridge over the Vaartsche Rijn and the road also changes names to Ledif Erf. The bikeway passes a square and another left turn pocket. Following that leads over the canal to the old city center, virtually all of which is a 30 KPH zone (and all paved in brick). However, the path forward lies ahead.
09:15 – Alternatives
There are two other ways to reach that location on Ledig Erf from the light on Vondellaan which in my experience, also tended to be a little quicker. The first as seen in the video involves crossing at the Bleekstraat light then making use of the bidirectional separated facility on the other side of the street to continue straight on Vondellaan. After about a block, there’s an intersection and a bridge over the Vaartsche Rijn. One can also reach that point by going straight past the first light (for lefts) on Vondellaan to the intersection than making a “Copenhagen left” to reach the point on the bridge. (There’s also another crossing just past the bridge that is unsignalized that can be used if the immediate left is red.)
After crossing the bridge, a left turn is made onto a bikeway underpass of the railroad concurrent with the Vaartsche Rijn. This connects to Oosterkade, another 30 KPH zone. It has parking on both sides (including locking bike parklets) and is two-way for about three blocks, but the last block is a one-way street for motorists in the direction opposite the direction of travel. That forms the connection to the point of departure from Ledig Erf. Although there is one side street along the way as well, it is a dead end.
The second option starts out largely the same. The choice of either side of Vondellaan remains, the difference is that the left turn is made prior to crossing the bridge over the Vaartsche Rijn. At the Juftaseweg intersection, the eastern arm is a new street, Westerkade. This also passes via the same underpass as Oosterkade mentioned above and the Vaartsche Rijn.
At this location, the Utrecht Vaartsche Rijn [Dutch] rail station, part of the ambitious Uithoflijn, was under construction. With tram service planned every four minutes (and probably also “stop train” aka local service, though not quite as frequent) to Utrecht Centraal, I’d expect that a lot of bicycle traffic that currently uses Croeselaan and Catherijnsingel to get to Utrecht Centraal to start their train trips here instead once it opens. ProRail has considered that and included a bicycle parking garage as part of the station, with room for several hundred bikes. No car parking is provided, but drop off is possible on the Westerkade side, which is a one-way street except for bikes.
After exiting from the underpass, Westerkade is still a one-way street, but in the opposing direction. Except for bikes. It continues up to Catherijnsingel and meets it right before the bridge over the Vaartsche Rijn when the separated bikeway starts again. While there is a traffic light there, signage indicates that bicyclists are allowed to make the right on red, which I do. Continuing on, we’re now on the same corner around Ledig Erf again.
Although they’re both largely paved of brick, those two options tended to be far more popular connections than the first one. There were also noticeably more parents with children on these routes, which can be seen in the video. Nevertheless, none of them ever really felt crowded, even during rush hour. The plethora of options means that everyone has an optimal path for a direct line, so not many people have to detour to get to a good bikeway [PDF], which keeps them from getting crowded.
13:15 – Tolsteegsingel/Abstederdijk/Venuslaan
Continuing around the corner from Ledig Erf, the name of the street changes names thrice within as many football fields worth of space. The corner from Ledig Erf (which is technically going straight on) is a right turn that has awkward positioning and can be a little unbalancing. (But the city has apparently tackled the problem since I’ve been gone and greatly improved the corner, with more changes in the works.) This is also the narrowest point of the journey, caused by the unsavory geometry of pushing a road through the area where two canals meet. However, as usual, bicyclist can bypass this stoplight as well.
After passing that intersection, the bikeway consists of a one-way path directly adjacent the Kromme Rijn. The main road however curves away from the it to allow space to make an intersection, so those on the bikeway are able to pass the intersection unaffected. (Note that a separated bikeway also continues up to the intersection itself adjacent the road for those who need to access the intersection.) However, the pavement quality under there is atrocious, hopefully Utrecht plans to fix it soon. After the intersection, the road is now four-lane when it rejoins the bikeway. This configuration continues on for several hundred yards. During the time, the road curves around and passes under another rail line.
15:00 – Rubenslaan/Stadionlaan/Herculesplein
At the intersection, the road once again changes names and the infrastructure takes on a new form as well. After passing through the light, there is a short bidirectional bikeway that connects to a one-way (except for bikes) access road that runs the length of the block. This road provides access to all side streets and driveways off of Rubenslaan. There are also a couple parking spaces located along its length. The entrances and exit from this access road all consist of speed tables. At the end of block, motorists must again exit and it transitions back into a separated bikeway for the intersection. This is repeated in the next two blocks as well.
After the third block, the road has changed names again and is now called Stadionlaan. Another bidirectional bikeway takes bicyclists through the intersection, into a parking lot, then into a separated bikeway again that passes under the Waterlinieweg, an inner ring road that goes partway around Utrecht. We now arrive at another light, where the wait is 70 seconds before being able to proceed. Also not ideal, but definitely not the worst light I’ve ever been through either. This leads to another short bidirectional separated bikeay that connects to a parking lot. And a name change.
We’re now on Herculesplein which provides bike connectivity directly adjacent to Herculeslaan. This is a one-way parking lot that allows contraflow cycling. It connects to another bidirectional separated bikeway that goes past the front of the stadium. About a block up the street, we arrive at another intersection. The main road turns, so the three arms meet at about a 120 degree angle. Not quite a T-intersection, but definitely not a roundabout either. Whatever it is, there are bidirectional bikeways around the entire thing. This is also where the path turns left.
20:10 – Weg tot de Wetenschap
This is the road that leads directly to the final destination at the UMC. This is also the route of the Uitoflijn. Buses are currently in use (one can be seen in the video), but some work has also already been done for the conversion to a tram, including the designation of various facilities. As a result, a 16-foot wide strip of new asphalt now forms bidirectional bikeway that runs the entire length of Weg tot de Wetenschap from Herculeslaan to the campus. Along the route, there are only two stoplights before reaching campus, both of which are usually green. The midway point at Platolaan is a major bike route between the city center and De Uitof, so a right turn pocket is included there as well. The route also passes under the A27 motorway right on the outskirts of campus.
23:30 – De Uithof
Upon arrival onto the campus of De Uithof science park itself, the bikeway continues on straight with its 16-foot width for a bit, though at some point it narrows to 15 feet. However, motorists must go elsewhere as the road to the left is the Uithoflijn and thus only for transit vehicles (buses at the moment, trams within the next three years). They both continue all the way through the center of the campus. Several bikeways also connect throughout the length of the campus to various other campus destinations and dorms.
After passing through the campus center, the bikeway crosses one of the access roads for motorists on a bikeway that is 27-feet wide, making it the widest official bikeway in The Netherlands. (This was chosen in lieu of using a right turn pocket at the location for the large volume of bikes crossing over here.) The end of the video is the approach to the UMC, though not actually reaching the front doors. Going straight ahead would bring one to De Uithof Park & Ride, which provides remote parking for regional travelers to reach the city center. Farther still along the road, one would arrive at the cities of De Bilt, Bilthoven, and other points north.
This video is a very typical scene while biking around most every major Dutch city. The infrastructure really doesn’t hold anyone up. Total riding time was about 21 minutes, well short of Google’s estimate of 30 minutes and almost identical to the time for driving (and on a city bike at that, where I certainly wasn’t setting any speed records). Nothing was staged or cherry-picked, I just chose the most straightforward route (that I knew) to take. Both the good and the bad can be seen. But what can also be seen is how many people are enabled by the good bikeways. Separated bikeways can take on many different forms, many of which are able to serve more people than just bicyclists and while they may not have a use everywhere, their importance as part of a menu of solutions for bringing better bikeways to all cannot be overstated.