The traffic light-less city of Utrecht
The Catharijnesingel is cut for through car traffic, Trouw reported last week. A nice step that also symbolizes the direction Utrecht is walking on. But where are we going?
A good year ago, in the Young Innovator trajectory for the college of government advisors, we (Track-landscapes) were allowed to take the space to think through these kinds of measures further (complete study: https://www.collegevanrijksadviseurs.nl/adviezen -publications/publication/2018/12/21/yi-no-bridge-too-far---track-landscape). If we really opt for cyclists and pedestrians, how do we design the city as a whole, completely differently?
In the case of Utrecht, in our view, this should not start with traffic engineering principles, but with the natural, historical structure that Utrecht still has. Utrecht derives its entire existence from the coming together of a number of waters: De Kromme and Oude Rijn, Vecht, Leidse Vaart (Old Rhine), Vaartse Rijn. After which the Merwede and Amsterdam-Rhine Canal followed. The main structures for human movement ideally follow the natural water system. Parallel, continuous, beautiful and logical lines of movement, ideal for both functional and recreational human traffic. Making the outside of the Singel contiguous for slow traffic is essential for the success of the network of natural movement lines for the entire city. It is the natural 'Ring Utrecht' that connects all water and movement lines.
Around it are two rings of car traffic; the highway ring (around the city) and an 'inner ring', which open up the neighborhoods around the center. The natural lines often cross frictionlessly under the two car rings and various railways. So far a great system.
But: the 'inner ring' can also be crossed by car from all sides (fig ^). You can drive from Rijnsweerd to Zuilen by car, just drive straight through the city via the Catharijnesingel. And so as a cyclist you stand five times at a traffic light along the Catharijnesingel. The cut in the Catharijnesingel, mentioned in the Trouw article, is an important step in preventing through car traffic in the city centre, which could easily have driven via the inner ring or (better still) highway ring. Or (even better) by bike. It is an excellent opportunity to design the canal primarily for cyclists and pedestrians. And that was not yet part of the initial plan to connect the canals and make them greener. The future Catherijnesingel was illustrated a year ago as a completely complete green zone: 'In 2020 Utrecht will be completely surrounded again'. The water is indeed now made complete and continuous. The fish can swim in a circle. But a few hundred meters after the location of the photo below, the paths on the inside of the Singel end and the walker, cyclist or runner is forced to join the motorized outside. And that outside is not photoshopped. With the Catharijneknip, Utrecht has a chance to completely design the canal primarily for cyclists and pedestrians. Then people can also walk around the canal. For now, another nice step in a healthy direction.
However, this is not yet a city-scale system solution. Vaartse Rijn station can be crossed twice by car at the southern tip of the Catharijnesingel. In the traffic quadrangle under Vaartse Rijn, cyclists and pedestrians will find a total of 27 traffic lights. We still live in a traffic light city. The change is taking place step by step, but shouldn't we just draw the dot on the horizon?
In the long run, we envision a system of 'car-injectors' that will protect the natural lines of movement from intersecting car traffic. A traffic light-free city. At the ends of these inserts are extensive parking garages. From here your 'last mile' starts towards your destination in central Utrecht. By foot, bicycle, scooter or skateboard.
It would still be possible to enter Central Utrecht by car, but only for local traffic (no through traffic) and not for permanent parking in front of the door. Do you want to bring heavy groceries or goods to your front door by car? Fine, but long-term parking is not done on the street, but in a garage where you have a permit. This creates the space that makes cycling and walking really attractive, and the motorized traffic intensity (with adjusted speed) that also makes shared use of paths possible safely.
Kromme Rijn, Vaartse Rijn and Kruisvaart converge at the southern tip of the Singel, around the railway underpasses dominated by car infrastructure. We have illustrated the effects of the proposed traffic system here.
With four, 3a4-layer parking garages of approximately 1ha surface, all the parking capacity of this district could already be accommodated (approximately 5000 of the 6000 places). Anyone living in this cut will be within 500 meters of a garage: a 5 minute walk. Moreover, shared car systems and electric charging systems can be organized much more efficiently at these central 'transport hubs'. The garages are probably even oversized; 5000 cars are by no means necessary if we can share cars more efficiently from central hubs. The threshold of 5 minutes walking to your car means that you only take it if the car is really by far the best option for your travel purpose and destination. This also prevents an overload of the inner ring. Because yes, cars are indispensable for certain purposes and target groups. Fine to take the car then.
What would be the impact of this on the public space of the city? Currently, exactly half of the space (200 ha) in this city corner is public (100 ha). Currently, 28% of the public space is occupied by car infrastructure (motorways + parking). Cyclists also use the motorways within the neighbourhoods, but it is usually the car that determines the profile of these streets. Separate bicycle paths form only 3% of the public space here.
The new system creates a carpet of space for healthy use: moving, playing, staying, planting and water. In this area of two square kilometers, the equivalent of three Wilhelmina Parks will become available in public space. An environment is created in which you can cycle to work or walk to your home or city via the clearly visible water structures, without traffic lights. After parking your car centrally.
Along various natural lines of movement, the quality of connections still needs to be upgraded or connections need to be added. The Vecht and Vaartse Rijn are still not attractive cycling routes. There is not yet a cycle path along the entire Kromme Rijn, potentially the fastest and most beautiful route to the Uithof.
And then let those 100,000 new residents come, plenty of room to move.