Saturday, 28 October 2017

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe: Part 5 - Longer Distances

One of the myths about the Netherlands is that everyone cycles everywhere. The country has a dense road network and people most certainly try and fill it up! However, people do cycle longer distances because they are enabled to.

In this week's post, I look at two rides I did while on my summer holiday which to some extent provide some contrasts. One was between southeast Amsterdam to the little town of Muiden at a distance of just over 5.5 miles, I rode this with my 13 year old son; and the other between the little town of Hengstdijk to the historic city of Hulst at a distance of about 7.5 miles, I rode this with my 3 year old daughter on the back of my hire bike.

Amsterdam to Muiden
The ride started at our campsite on the edge of Gaasperpark with an immediate jump onto the cycle track which runs right past the site on the N236 (N roads being a provincial road). As you can see below, the cycle track has a red surface.

Leaving the city limits of Amsterdam, the red surfacing ceases and the N236 becomes Provincialeweg (below) which continues southeast away from Amsterdam.

The road is single-carriageway and subject to an 80kph (50mph) speed limit and there is a broad, verge separated cycle track provided on one side (on which people can walk if they wish to).

Above is the junction of Provincialeweg with Driemondweg. It is a signalised T-junction through which people cycling receive a green signal in parallel to the man road traffic; drivers turning right or left into the side road (or leaving the side) road are held on red.

A bit further on, the road crosses a large canal (above and below) and of course, the cycle track is maintained. Although cycling is banned on the road, clearly the cycle track is a far nicer and safer place to be and on the day we rode the route, there were plenty of roadies out and about!

A little further on, the road name has changed to Gooilandseweg and we happen upon a curious unstaffed petrol station. Naturally, the cycle track passed behind it. You can just see the moped on the photo above - they are banned on this class of road and so you'll often see them on this type of cycle track (as they are permitted).

Just after the petrol station, we had to turn left onto C.J. van Houtenlaan to take us into the town of Weesp. The turn is made in two stages to cross the wide intersection (above and below).

The crossing running parallel with the main road is two-way. The crossing of the main road is only two-way because of access to another side road, otherwise you are taken towards Weesp on a one-way track.

The cycle track gives way to a painted advisory lane which was a bit uncomfortable after the protection we had been enjoying (above), although clearly, locals felt safe enough.

We picked up a sign for Muiden which took us along, Korte Stammerdijk, a traffic-free canal route (above) and into the heart of the town (below is Herengracht).

The central area of Weesp has pretty much no cycling infrastructure, but as the streets are filtered, it was absolutely fine of course.

Leaving Weesp, the road got busier and so we were back on a cycle track (below). It was the narrowest we had seen, but even so, it was machine-laid and just about OK for side by side cycling. The speed limit here is 60kph (38mph), but with a track on each side of the road (Weesperweg) you still wouldn't pick the road.

The cycle track on our side of the road ended at a signalised crossing which joined a two-way track on the other side of the road (below). This was all very new and we soon saw why.

Just to the south of Muiden is the A1 Autosnelweg (motorway), which also forms part of the E231 European route. The cycle track is of course maintained across the motorway (below).

As you can see from the photo above, the A1 is an absolutely huge road. What we didn't realise (until we headed back using a different route) was that the bridge we were crossing was almost 200 metres wide and carried the Vecht Canal with roads each side of that (below)!

Muider is a compact town with narrow streets. As you'd expect, there is plenty of filtering and so even though space is tight, vehicle access is allowed, but heavily managed. Even a street like Herengracht (below) is pleasant and safe to walk along because of the traffic management.

Mind you, the Dutch have too many cars and so the curse of footway parking strikes even in pretty places like Muiden as demonstrated in Kon. Julianastraat (below).

Hengstdijk to Hulst
This ride took place in Zeeland, which is far more rural and so rather than follow the route, I'm going to pick out some highlights along the way.

Rural lanes are a big feature of the area, but with longer distance traffic on main roads, they are generally used to access the sprinkling of houses and farms. The general speed limit is 60kph (38mph), although the narrowness of the roads generally meant that drivers were taking care. In some of the little hamlets, an advisory (I think) speed limit applied and the road was surfaced red to reinforce the fact.

The scariest moment was encountering our first tractor which was pulling a load of potatoes; because of the narrowness, we had to pull over to let them through. We encountered quite a few tractors that day, but the drivers were mindful of us and so things remained pleasant. The roads were so quiet, that there was no concern with stopping to have a look at things which caught our eye!

Where the roads are taking longer distance traffic, then we are back with the familiar provision of a two-way cycle track as can be seen below on next to the N290, just south of the village of Terhole. 

This next sequence of photos was taken on the way back from Hulst, but shows the changing road layout approaching and through Terhole itself (which is bypassed by the N290). First, we have the cycle track approaching the edge of the village - the sign (below) is aimed at drivers.

The sign is warning of some pretty heavy traffic calming ahead (below) - it did make me wonder if being bypassed, then it would have been better to have filtered out through traffic.

The engineering gives way to some paint (below) - people cycling in the other direction have to cross the road to get into this two-way track, but it didn't seem too tricky.

The paint ends in road where people cycling mix with traffic and people walking have a footway (below). A bit of lateral traffic calming is provided with planting and some parking is provided.

Being the Netherlands, you expect to see the odd cycle and parked up in the village centre was a whole range of machines (below)!

At the north end of the village, there was a pair of bus stops with covered cycle parking (below). You can just make out a roundabout ahead and before you get to it, you cycle enter a two-way cycle track to the right.

Looking back, you can see why people cycling aren't expected to mix with traffic on the larger roads (below)!

To the south of Terhole, the cycle track ends as it enters a residential area on the edge of Hulst - the photo below shows the layout as one heads north out of Hulst.

Hulst itself has a walled city core surrounded by residential estates (below) with no particular cycling infrastructure and perhaps less filtering than we saw elsewhere. Tivoliweg feeds a larger area and did feel a little busy.

Above is a view of Hulst's city walls and one of the accesses through them. In this case, one access for traffic and a later access for walking and cycling (on the left) at Zoutestraat.

Hulst is a beautiful little city with hundreds of years of history, but it's not sentimental and remains very much a working place serving an extensive hinterland of villages.

Cycling is clearly a popular mode of transport in and around Hulst as we saw on our journey to, from and around the city (above and below).

However, plenty of cars were evident and sometimes intimidating on the narrow streets.

However, away from the main square, some filtering had taken place to create quiet little spaces which were accessible by car if needed.

I've given two snapshots here and so please consider the usual health warnings of these being things I saw while on holiday and that the experience could vary with time of day or day of week. However, being able to cycle slightly longer distances with children is testament to how safe the Netherlands is for cycling. Apart from perhaps the difference in traffic signal arrangements, all of the things you can see from this post can be done in the UK. It is the political, not the technical at play here.

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