Category Archives: Far and Wide

Parking: Not Just an American Concern

While looking for background information to bolster the post about riding between Utrecht Centraal and Vleuten stations, I came across the documents pertaining to the conversion of Zandweg into a fietsstraat. Included were the written comments and responses [PDF, Dutch] provided during the consultation period for that project. While every other topic addressed in the process had three, maybe five comments total, the comments about parking took up five whole pages, comprising the decided majority of the concerns raised. What gives? Don’t the Dutch like biking?

In truth, it should ultimately not be such a surprise. Though they’re known as the country of biking, there is also quite a lot of driving done in the The Netherlands and their road network is arguably more efficient than ours. Additionally, they do continue to spend a lot of money on road projects such as the Leeuwarden Vrijbaan initiative or the ongoing massive project to widen the freeways between Schipol, Amsterdam, and Almere. The majority of these projects are directly intended to make driving easier, with familiar phrases like “relieve congestion” and “provide economic stability” showing up as the reasons for the improvements. The only difference is that they think of bikes when making those improvements.

Back to Zandweg itself. The fietsstraat has since been completed, as can be seen in the earlier video (or on Google Maps). Also visible are the numerous parking bays, some with parked vehicles, some without. But what’s striking is that many of the homes and businesses along the route have driveways with plenty of space available for parking onsite. Parking along Zandweg is additional and as near as I could tell, free. That should be a familiar concept to many Americans and one which clearly crosses borders. That’s further evidence that many concerns are basic human concerns, not just limited to certain people. What works there can work here too. All we have to do is stop insisting that “we’re different” and start emulating the best examples.

Advertisements

Almere’s BOD

One enduring topic that often permeates planning and transit circles is whether bus or rail is a better solution to mobility. Generally speaking, rail does make sense after a certain point, but where exactly that point is remains a bit of a mystery and up for interpretation. However, people tend to agree that if separate right-of-ways and especially grade separations are employed, it might be better to consider rail over buses.

In that regard, the Dutch are somewhat of heretics, building dedicated bus lanes on many major streets and dedicated busways all over the country in areas that most people would assert are better suited for rail. In the city of Almere, the busways are unique, even by Dutch standards, because it was master planned from the very beginning with a functional bus network that connects the town and feeds the half dozen rail stations that connect the city to the rest of the country in what one writer has called “bus-oriented development”.

In the (now closed) comment section of that piece, a fierce debate quickly broke out questioning whether Almere’s bus network would be better as trams light rail. (Even with tram vehicles, the operation would be far closer to the average light rail provision here in America due to the dedicated right-of-ways.) The reasoning varied, ranging from the fact that the right-of-ways already exist to the size of the city itself, with several examples of smaller cities with functional tram networks being presented as evidence that it could (should?) be done.

However, one factor seems to have completely eluded all but one of the debaters: Almere is a Dutch city. Being Dutch, that means that bicycles can probably be considered viable options and Almere does not disappoint. As documented by BicycleDutch, biking is easily accessible to everyone everywhere in the community and bike parking is integral at major destinations and transit stations. As such, many people undoubtedly bike to the city center or train instead of taking the bus as even with good transit provisions in town, shorter journeys still end up taking a similar amount of time.

That most people are choosing to bike instead of use local transit isn’t just speculation. A look at the stats show that on a national level, biking absolutely crushes local transit [BTM = bus/tram/metro], with the latter never accounting for more than 10% of all journeys and the two modes not even reaching parity until the 15-20 km trip distance range. Meanwhile, all residential developments in the city are within 3 miles (5 km) of one of the six (yes, six) train stations and city-level stats show that biking accounts for 31% of all journeys of 7.5 km or less. As such, the likelihood that the busways will be upgraded to trams/LRT is rather low as there just isn’t much need for such a conversion, at least not at present.

Almere is a great example of how bikes (all, not just colorful ones from kiosks) can vastly extend the reach of transit as well as the success of the Dutch campaign to get people biking more for short trips. Whether designed for from the beginning or as a repurposing of space from cars to people, bikes fill an important part of the transportation puzzle and dedicating space for bikes in a community is one of the most cost-effective things a transit agency can and/or push for to improve its operations. The benefits realized by Almere are well within reach of American communities too, it just requires adjusting priorities for people over cars.

Bikeways and Traffic

A common complaint and critique of separated bikeways is that “competent” bicyclists can travel at the speed of traffic in the roadway and would be “held up” on bike-specific infrastructure and therefore bikeways shouldn’t be built at all. Though that reality has been repeatedly shown to be inaccurate on well-designed facilities, the belief is still carried forward and trumpeted that bikeways restrict the speed of riders.

However, as cities across the country and globe increasingly realize that there is no way to ever build their way out of congestion, they’re instead turning to other mechanisms and methods of dealing with the growth that is occurring. As priorities change, complete streets policies are being enacted that reallocate the space of existing roads for all modes as well as dictate how new roads should be constructed to make the best use of space to move people, not just cars.

What happens when such a change occurs? Overtoom in Amsterdam (pictured below) gives us a good example. One of the main routes heading into and out of the city, it has space for all users. The exact profile differs based on location, but very generally is arranged with buses/trams/taxis in the central lanes, one lane per direction for general traffic, parking for cars and bikes, separated bikeways, and of course, sidewalks. The result is a thoroughfare that has the capacity to move far more people than the number actually moved on typical arterial that scars many cities, but just as long as they’re not trying to drive alone in a car.

overtoom
The predominant configuration of Overtoom for the majority of its length.

The following two videos show how the street looks and works in real life.

This one is composed of several snippets of how the street functions over the course of the evening rush hour. At times of high congestion, the bikeway is absolutely faster than the general travel lanes, even for those who are not riding particularly fast at all.

This second video shows the entirety of the street as it heads out of town.  The location where the first video was filmed is to the right at 0:16, in the shop with the yellow awning. At over four minutes to go just over a mile, the speed of transit for the corridor by car is slower than many people can comfortably bike, even though this doesn’t appear to be filmed during rush hour per se.

As cities grow and become more congested, bikes will continue to be looked as as a way provide an alternative to driving. Though not typically well-understood by many, bikes actually do offer competitive travel times to driving a car, even with infrastructure that people like to assume mandates slow biking. That’s a view that simply isn’t supported by the evidence, especially the prevalence of scooters using Dutch bikeways (often illegally).

An(other) Utrecht Bike Commute: Utrecht Centraal to Vleuten

Last time I rolled around Utrecht, I looked at how one might travel from the Kanaleneiland neighborhood to De Uithof and the Utrecht University Medical Center area. On that trip, it became apparent that making that a journey by bike would likely be faster than transit and for a motivated or e-bike rider, just about as fast as driving. That should make it obvious as to why Utrecht scores high on the list of bike-friendly cities: there is no penalty for riding.

This time around, I’m going to take a look at another possible and common trip option in The Netherlands: from the rail station to home. Around 40% of the users of the Dutch railways get to or from the train station by bike, which has resulted in the world-famous bike parking garages. But the excellent bike infrastructure extends well beyond the station, which provides great mobility to the entire region.

Utrecht is growing and one place where that is occurring is the new area under development called Leidsche Rijn. Located around four miles to the west of the historic city, it already has three train stations, with one being the western endpoint of the Route 28 BRT line. But, although the trip detailed here is almost unnecessary, the excellent bike infrastructure means that it is a time-competitive and comfortable option for people. Furthermore, the city is investing lots of money into improvements that will make this trip even better [Dutch], including a new bridge over the Amsterdam-Rijnkanaal, to encourage people to bike for this journey.

jaarbeurspleinsign
The sign outside the Jaarbeursplein garage provides information about the experiment and a map.

00:00 – Jaarbeursplein (Fietsenstalling)
The journey begins inside the Utrecht Centraal station, which is undergoing a massive reconstruction project known as CU2030. Part of that includes one of the latest Dutch bike innovations: Jaarbeursplein. A 4200 spot parking garage is nothing extraordinary by Dutch standards  and indeed, Utrecht is in the process of building another on the other side of the station that will have triple the capacity. The experimental part of Jaarbeursplein is not the hardscape but the support. It’s the first to have an attendant 24/7 and is also connected to the fiets P-Route, which shows bicyclists real-time information on how many spaces are available at several different bike garages around the city.

After exiting the garage, we’re in the actual Jaarbeursplein. Out front is a taxi stand, some bus stops (now removed), a passenger drop off, as well as the light rail line to IJsselstein/Nieuwegein. Not only does the line transport residents to and from the city, it also provides access to the Westraven park & ride lot that provides visitors a place to park while they visit the city center. A fee of €5 provides a daily parking pass AND free ticket to ride into the city via public transit for up to five people.

1:25 – Westplein

The road in Jaarbeursplein is also named Jaarbeursplein and is mostly for accessing the buildings around the square. People can also use it for dropping passengers off, but dead-ends for motorists by Westplein. However, it does continue straight through for bicyclists, I just never actually needed to go that exact route, so I didn’t have video of that small segment, hence the fade.

The point where the video fades in is the filtered permeability that makes this a through route for bicyclists, but not motorists. Going right at that point would lead to a underpass of the station and to the city center. However, the path to the outer neighborhoods is straight ahead.

Here, the bikeway crosses over Westplein, which includes the Fietsenstalling Westplein Zuid facility in its central median. (It should be noted that the tramway used to go this direction and connect on the other side of the station, something which can still be seen on Google Maps. The median is where the tracks were.) As it is a bit of a walk away from the trains, this parking is more for the community and visitors than commuters. It’s also part of the P-Route system.

After crossing Westplein, I turn left onto a bidirectional bikeway that parallels Westplein, which is nominally the Overlandroute. I never actually measured it, but it looked (and felt) to be around the same width as the bikeway on Beneluxlaan, which was nearly 12 feet wide. A few hundred feet along, we arrive at stoplight at the intersection of what is really a whole bunch of streets; the whole area is a mess. The street to the right enters into a residential area, so traffic volumes aren’t extremely high. Additionally, bicyclists at this location looking to turn right into that street can do so without stopping at the light.

2:15 – Overlandroute/Leidseweg

After the light and crossing Damstraat, the bikeway continues as a bidirectional facility that goes straight ahead while the road curves away. Due to the proximity to so many uses, there is definitely probability for pedestrians, so a sidewalk is provided next to the bikeway. However, the bikeway itself is only about 75 meters long. It merely forms a connection, not the main route.

The bikeway ends into Leidseweg, which is directly parallel one of the canals. Although not officially signed as a fietsstraat, my experience with it at several different times led to noticing at least a 2-3:1 ratio of bikes to motorists using it. No doubt, this is partly because Leidseweg is part of a 30 KPH zone and is one-way for motorists. For bikes, that means that those heading out of the city are going contraflow. However, that’s not at all a problem since it’s a residential area and traffic is kept even lower with the one-way street network.

Additionally, the entire street is paved in bricks, which certainly is able to keep unnecessary motorists away, but definitely impacts ride quality for bicyclists too. Streets like Leidseweg are what make the balloon tires found on so many Dutch bikes a desirable feature. Although the canal side of the street is a bit smoother, it’s still brick and isn’t the best ride around. Coming from the smooth connecting path, it’s definitely a bit jarring.

About two thirds of the way down Leidseweg is the first of several intersections and bridges along the route. The intersecting streets are Koningsbergerstraat/Jan Pieterszoon Coenstraat. Generally, there is no priority in a 30 KPH zone, but since Leidseweg is the main bikeway, it has priority here and in a bit of a rarity on Dutch streets, cross traffic has a stop sign. Also, the Jan Pieterszoon Coenstraat bridge is one-way only for motorists, so they can only turn left onto Leidseweg. One can continue past this intersection almost without realizing that it’s there.

A couple hundred more feet is the Abel Tasmanstraat/Muntkade intersection. While the previous one is a little offset, the one with Abel Tasmanstraat and Muntkade is better described as adjacent T-intersections. Additionally, both roads allow two-way traffic, as does the bridge. As a result, this intersection is definitely busier. However, Leidseweg still has priority through here too.

4:30 – Muntbrug/Leidseweg

Immediately past Muntkade is the Muntbrug [note: currently undergoing renovations] which spans the Merwedekanaal. The bridge, which is closed to motor vehicles, is almost certainly a big part of what keeps the level of motor traffic on Leidseweg down.

Just over the bridge, the route intersects with the Kanaalweg Fietsroute. That bikeway runs north-south through the entire city of Utrecht, sometimes as a bidirectional separated bikeway, sometimes as a fietsstraat. It contains only one level crossing of a major street throughout the entire journey. Anyone who lived along it could use this route to get between the train station or even city center while passing through no more than five traffic signals the entire way and likely never facing a stop sign either. That creates a pleasant, non-stop cycling experience.

After the intersection, Leidseweg continues and is once again a 30 KPH zone. It’s two-way for about a hundred feet, then reverts back to the one-way configuration (as well as the brick pavers). This is also a residential area and the profile and usage is similar to the other side of the canal, with parking on one side, motor vehicles allowed one-way, and bidirectional for bicyclists. At the intersection with Bartoklaan/Mozartlaan, Leidseweg again has priority,

IMG_1523
Signage on Leidseweg warns motorists to watch for bikes while turning.

though this street (one street, two names) doesn’t have stop signs. Additionally, the direction of the one-way reverses at the intersection and is thus in the direction of travel away from the city. (The change in direction also means that the smoother brick pavers are gone too.)
The final segment of Leidseweg is again two-way for motor traffic. However, the opposing one-way streets keep motor traffic volumes low which makes routes pleasant for biking while still maintaining the ability for motor vehicles to access them.

6:50 – Kennedylaan

After nearly a mile, we arrive at another traffic signal at the intersection of Pijperlaan. The light is only red for about 15 seconds before we’re again on our way. Here, Leidseweg ends for motor vehicles, but bicyclists can continue straight ahead on a short connector that makes this the continuous route for bicyclists. The bikeway passes some buildings, then crosses Kennedylaan with priority. The intersection includes prolific markings to that effect as well as a raised table and a mirror. Adjacent Kennedylaan, the route is a bidirectional separated bikeway parallel to the roadway that branches off after about 600 feet to connect with the bridge over the Amsterdam-Rijnkanaal and rejoin the road that branched away after Damstraat. While parallel to Kennedylaan, the bikeway is nearly 12 feet wide. That expands to 13 feet on the path up to the Meernbrug, where the bikeway rejoins the route for motor traffic that was crossed at Westplein.

9:05 -Meernbrug

The Meernbrug [Dutch] carries Dominee Martin Luther Kinglaan over the Amsterdam-Rijnkanaal. That road provides a rather straight shot into the city center directly from the A2 motorway. The bridge also has a path hanging off the side that is admittedly, not the most enticing of facilities. It’s open to the wind and cold and some parts need surface maintenance. However, it does provide a connection across the canal and a supplementary connection [Dutch] is in the works, due to open soon. The path that leads away from Meernbrug on the other side of the canal, Dominee Abernathylaan, is of top quality. I never measured it, but it appears and feels to be at least 12 feet wide and includes a sidewalk. It curves around, following the contours created by the freeway ramps, then splits. Going the intended route means following the fork to the right and going back down.

11:15 – Rijksstraatweg

Turning left onto (what quickly becomes) Rijksstraatweg, I passed under several structures. The first is a bridge that carries the bikeway that continues straight, the next two are the twin Leidsche Rijn tunnels [Dutch] that carry the A2 motorway past Utrecht. Similar to other newer tunnels around the country, the underside of the bridge/tunnels includes an art installation of colored lights to help maintain social safety. The route under the tunnels is closed to motor traffic, which makes this end of Rijksstraatweg to be virtually car-free.

After exiting from under the tunnel bridges, there’s a small bridge that connects to the bikeway that parallels the A2/Stadsbaan Leidsche Rijn into Leidsche Rijn it. The same exact destination can be reached via that route as well, though with a few more turns. Once in the open, Rijksstraatweg also becomes a fietsstraat as motor vehicles are allowed to drive here to access the homes along this segment. But since the Leidsche Rijn tunnels still block access, there is no reason for motorists to continue farther than the homes. The result is that bike heavily outnumber cars, making the road is a de facto bikeway, which is the intent of a fietsstraat.

12:50 – Zandweg

Not far down the road, the fietsstraat moves to the other side of the canal. The street it continues on, Zandweg, forms the bulk of a fietsstraat that stretches all the way to the city limits of Utrecht. At six kilometers long, it’s the longest in the country (and probably the world). Motorists can drive on the entire length of Zandweg, but there are segments of opposing one-way which mean that Zandweg can never be used as a through route or effective shortcut to anywhere. (In case anyone has ever wondered whether Dutch brick streets are just stamped concrete, observe the piles of brick beside the sidewalk beginning about 18:30.)

Design features such as a low bridge, raised table intersections, and speed humps keep speeds down throughout the length. Following established fietsstraat tradition, it also is assigned priority over most intersecting streets, even in instances where it appears to possibly not be the best idea. There is one crossing at Europaweg where the bikeway yields, but there are generally breaks in traffic that allow someone to cross, which is what happens as I approach.

The majority of use along Zandweg is residential, though there are also some businesses interspersed throughout. Thus, although there are motor vehicles present, bikes still outnumber cars along the route as most through motor traffic uses Rijksstraatweg on the other side of the canal. Along the way, there are around three times as many bridges to allow non-motorized users to cross the canal as there are for motor vehicles. Those all help to make it a viable route for bikes, but not so much for cars.

22:55 – Busbaan Vleuterweide/Utrechtse Heuvelrug

At length, I arrived at one of several entrances to the Vleuterweide [Dutch] community of the Leidsche Rijn development. This particular entrance one is solely for buses and non-motorized users. The bikeway and busway form the only direct route through the center of the development to the Vleuten station on the other side and allows for those two modes to have transit times across that are perhaps too swift [Dutch]. All other motorists seeking to cross must go around the perimeter on what forms a rough ring  road.

buildyourdreamhouse
There are still signs in Leidsche Rijn inviting people to “build their dream home”. Image Google Streetview, translated/edited by author.

About two blocks down, I arrived at fifth stoplight of the entire journey. It turned soon, though perhaps not as quickly as it could’ve given the lack of conflicting traffic. Going ahead, I continued on what I now realize is a road for construction access only–the communities are very much still under construction. Nevertheless, it caused no real problems as there was no traffic anyway. The official path to the left side was not particularly appealing either, being another 30 KPH zone paved in brick. The short stretch on the construction road inadvertently avoided that segment.

The construction road leads to a staple of Dutch bikeway planning: a short segment of separated bikeway through an intersection. This is the intersection of the busway and the ring road as well as a road that provides access to motor vehicles the the inner part of the community, including all the shops as well as the denser development. However, as stated before, it does not provide a direct path through for motorists. They must take the long way around. However, the roads are used as bike infrastructure and the bike route alternates between 30 KPH zones and bidirectional separated bikeways through this area, depending on the situation. The route is continuous, though not necessarily with priority at every junction, as can be seen in the video.

29:35 – Stroomrugbaan

This is the location of the ring road on the other side of the main Vleuterweide development. This particular intersection has proven to be quite problematic, with several serious collisions, including one death, having occurred in its short time of existence. As a result, changes are in the works [Dutch], including an integration of the busway into the adjoining roadway between Stroomrugbaan and the Vleuten station entrance.

After passing through the ninth and final stoplight of the six mile trip, a left and quick right bring me to Inktzwamsingel. This road is another 30 KPH zone, being only intended to serve as an access to the homes there. With no connection to the busway or intersection, there is no motor traffic there that doesn’t belong. The road curves around the building and at the next corner, there is a temporary sidewalk that leads directly to the Vleuten train station. Even though the construction and final form aren’t even finished, a route is provided so that people do not feel the “need” to drive and thus develop that habit.

31:10 – Vleuten Station

The end of the journey is the end of the line. At the Vleuten station, there is a park & ride lot for people who drive to the trains or buses, but it can only be reached from the Vleuterweide side. Though there isn’t a full-fledged bike parking facility like Jaarbeursplein, there are hundreds of bike racks, both covered and uncovered, available for those who bike to the station and were generally pretty well used.

32:30 – Professor Titus Brandsmalaan (Vleuten)

After passing the station, I took one of the underpasses of the railway into the village of Vleuten itself. Vleuten used to be its own municipality, but merged with others over the years until finally getting absorbed into Utrecht in 2001. The underpass I take is only open to nonmotorized users. After the underpass, I turn onto Professor Titus Brandsmalaan that parallels the railway through the southern side of the village. As can be seen, there are quite a few cars parked, not sure if those are all for Vleuten residents or also includes people who have driven in to access the train and parked there. At John F. Kennedylaan, there’s another underpass of the railway that is open to motor vehicles, but only buses are allowed to continue through in its entirety. Private vehicles can only drop people off at the station. The final underpass as the video ends is at Odenveltlaan, and it also is only open to nonmotorized users.

In other words, all three underpasses directly between Vleuten and Vleuterweide are closed to private motor traffic. Someone wishing to drive to the shops or activities in Vleuterweide is directed onto roads that skirt around the development that are nearly a mile apart. The result is that journey times for bike, driving, and to some extent, bus are all about equal. There is little

In total, the entire trip took about 28 minutes worth of moving time between the two stations, about eight minutes faster than projected by Google Maps. This compares to a ten minute trip on transit (though the bus takes nearly the same amount of time as biking) or 15-20 minutes driving. I was also not going particularly fast, especially toward the end. For someone going faster, it should be possible to shave another four to six minutes off the time.

Also, since people don’t live at the train station, the ride to their home would almost certainly end earlier, perhaps in one of the homes off of Kennedylaan, Zandweg, or near the entrance of Vleuterweide. That would bring the bike trip to a little over 20 minutes, which is again almost as fast as driving. When combined with the overall pleasant trip experience, there is little to gain by driving. That’s what we should be aspiring to in our cities as well: a comfortable biking experience that is competitive with driving for people of all ages and abilities.

Update: Some minor editing and notes about infrastructural changes that have happened in the eight months between shooting the video and this blog post.

An Utrecht Bike Commute: Kanaleneiland to De Uithof/Utrecht Science Park

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.

Bike parking in Kanaleneiland.
Bike parking in Kanaleneiland.

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.

Two cars pass each other on Eisenhowerlaan in Utrecht.
Two cars pass each other on Eisenhowerlaan in Utrecht.

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).

The measurements of the transition to cycletrack at the intersection of Bernadottelaan & Beneluxlaan in Utrecht.
The measurements of the transition to protected bikeway at the intersection of Bernadottelaan & Beneluxlaan in Utrecht.

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.

Looking east on the Kol. Wilheminalaan access road at the intersection with Van Bijnkershoeklaan and associated traffic calming devices.
Looking east on the Kol. Wilheminalaan access road at the intersection with Van Bijnkershoeklaan and associated traffic calming devices. Image: Google StreetView.

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.

At Croeselaan, a left turn pocket allows bicyclists headed toward the station to wait for the light out of the way of others.
At Croeselaan, a left turn pocket allows bicyclists headed toward the station to wait for the light out of the way of others.

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.

As can be seen by the tire marks in the planter, many people taking this corner never make it to the intersection.
As can be seen by the tire marks in the planter, many people taking this corner never make it to the intersection.

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).

Ledig Erf is at the entrance to the old city area.
Ledig Erf is at the entrance to the old city area. In the background, the Vaartsche Rijn bridge and houses along Westkade can be seen.

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.

The bike parking garage at the under construction Vaartsche Rijn station.
The bike parking garage at the under-construction Vaartsche Rijn station will have room for several hundred bicycles.

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
A right turn pocket on Weg tot de Wetenschap leads bicyclists to the city center.
A right turn pocket on Weg tot de Wetenschap lets bicyclists heading to the city center via Platolaan stay out of the way of everyone else.

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
The cycletrack that extends through the center of the campus of the science park at De Uithof.
The bikeway that passes through the center of the campus of the science park at 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.

The widest official bikeway in The Netherlands with the UMC in the background.
The Dutch take the easy way out and tackle the problem of heavy right turn traffic by building the widest official bikeway in The Netherlands. The UMC is in the background.

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.

Normality

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.