Sunday, 5 November 2017

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe: Part 6 - A Maastricht Treat

As you might have guessed by now, my adventures in the Netherlands over the summer have reinvigorated my engineer's eye and there is simply so much to write about.

I'm not sure how many parts this blog will end up having because I am enjoying the writing up almost as much as the visit! This week, I head to Maastricht in the far southeast corner of the Netherlands, an area which is essentially a peninsula of territory with Belgium on one side and Germany on the other.

We were actually in the city on a day trip to the St Peter's Fortress and caves which are to the south of the city, but we had some time to walk around the city - about 20 minutes by foot from the fort to the city centre. As you might expect, there are cycle tracks on the main roads such as this one on Sint Hubertuslaan.

This cycle track provides a transition between the neighbourhood near the fort (where there is no cycling infrastructure, just modal filters and a 20mph speed limit) and Prins Bisschopsinge which forms part of the N278 which is a large dual carriageway skirting south of the city itself.

The main road itself isn't particularly pleasant, but is has facilities for walking and cycling which provide regular green signals and no staggered crossings of the main road (above). As you might expect, the infrastructure simply allowed people to go about their business with the only hi-vis being workwear!

An interesting feature was the cycle track transitioning into a service road (below) which itself was only useful for accessing the dwellings along it. Being slightly lost trying to find the fort, I drove into the service road before realising I had to go the long way round to get out!

On the city side of the N279 we were back into a 20mph area which had advisory cycle lanes for a short distance but no centre line). There wasn't much motor traffic around and as usual, plenty of people were cycling (below).

We then walked into the edge of the city centre and the streets became narrower and the general approach was to have two-way cycling and one-way motor traffic (below).

However, the streets were going to get narrower still because parts of the city are so old. These places are heavily filtered and unless you had business there as a driver, you just wouldn't bother going there.

That's not to say there are no cars in the city, although in parts, they do detract from the charm such as here in Grote Looiersstraat (below), although they are reserved for permit holders rather than being a free for all.

The street below is nominally a pedestrian zone, but people are alowed to cycle through. The sub plate says "fietsen toegestaan brom-/ snorfietsen verboden" which roughly means cycling allowed but mopeds prohibited (thanks to Twitter people for the translation). Mopeds are generally allowed to use cycle tracks in the Netherlands and so this seems to be a method of prohibiting them, but allowing cycling.

However, there are even places where allowing cycles to use the street as a cut-through is not permitted and these are full pedestrian zones. They allow cycling out of hours and there is limited access for motors for deliveries. But during the day, these streets belong to pedestrians as is the case with Grote Staat. 

In terms of what we had seen travelling around, a ban on cycling was quite unusual, although these streets didn't really provide any movement function as people passing through would have been elsewhere. As in the UK, it doesn't deal with the issue of people who use cycles as mobility aids also being banned.

Maastricht is an interesting place which is full of history, but it has modernity rubbing shoulder to shoulder with its past such as Mosae Forum sitting on the edge of Markt (above). I wish we'd have had more time as we only scratched the surface. What was evident was how different uses for the streets were transitioned from one to another with pedestrian areas at one end and large regional road at the other - our walk that day showed us this very clearly.

I loved cycling in the Netherlands, but even though I didn't in Maastricht, I didn't miss it as the city is so walkable. I even think you'd miss out on some of the details on a cycle such as street lighting attached to buildings;

Or the witch of Hekenstraat (Witch Street);

Little ramp-cum give-way marking slabs on the cycle tracks;

And of course, little notches in the granite kerbs for added durability to a kerb line (did you expect anything less!)

The other parts to this series are as follows;


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  2. Sorry, I don't have Twitter but wanted to answer your question regarding "fietsen toegestaan, brom-/snorfietsen verboden": fietsen means both bikes and biking, as it's the full verb that in English is phrased as "to bike"; toegestaan = allowed. It means cycling is allowed, but mopeds (bromfietsen), even the lightweight slow ones (snorfietsen), aren't allowed.

    I'm from the Netherlands, just an ordinary person not a traffic engineer or anything like that, but I enjoy reading your articles. They're opening my eyes to look at my surroundings in a new way!

  3. PS. The only way to say "cyclists dismount" would be "fietsers afstappen". I can't remember the last time I saw a sign like that.

  4. Re using cycles as mobility aids in fully pedestriaized areas: scootmobiles (electric mostly-outdoors wheelchairs) are allowed, and a wheelchair with cycling addition would certainly be considered as a wheelchair and thus allowed.
    An obviously handicapped person on a trike would likely be considered in that category too - they are the only people allowed to cycle in our indoors, cycling prohibited, mall (our epileptic & spastic colleague does his shopping that way). Less visible handicaps/adaptations would probably get you some discussion with the policeperson.

    1. Thanks for the information - it's hard to work out for a non-local!

  5. "just" "modal filters and a 20mph speed limit"

    is actually a most effective way of encouraging cycling!

    I cycled through Maastricht on my way to Cologne a couple of years ago. I encountered many, many herringbone cobbles, and got a vibration-related ulnar nerve palsy that left me with numb fingers for months!

    1. I recently cycled along a cobbled road in London on my folder - not much fun at all. Luckily we can now machine cobbles to get the effect, but making them much smoother to use!

  6. Why do we want to ride on cobbles again?
    I'm a firm advocate of the creamy smooth mid-grey asphalt of the French Departémentales myself. When it's new, it's very, very good to ride on indeed. All users' respect for the Code de la Route is obviously an essential corollary.