Picture post – Veenendaal

By British standards, the Dutch town of Veenendaal has some exceptional infrastructure, but this is really a rather quite unexceptional Dutch town, in many ways. When I mentioned to Dutch people that I intended to visit Veenendaal while I was in the country last year, they couldn’t understand why.

From a distance – through the haze of a Dutch spring morning – it looks rather Soviet.

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 14.12.00

Veenendaal is the equivalent of a British new town, expanding rapidly from a very small post-war settlement into the large town it is today, which accounts for the rather featureless architecture. It was, however, winner of the Fietsstad (best cycling city/town) award in 2000 – more detail (in Dutch) here.

As it happened, I couldn’t book accommodation in Veenendaal, so I stayed in the nearby town of Wageningen, and only briefly passed through Veenendaal on my way to Utrecht. Nevertheless I hope the pictures and video I managed to take convey a flavour of the town.

The approach from the countryside to the south east is typical. A quiet rural road merges into cycling infrastructure. Here the cycle track passes over a canal, then under the ring road, in one smooth transition.

Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 19.59.48This is how cycling through and around the town felt – seamless. The path alongside the ring road is of a similar standard.

Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 20.00.02As are the paths through and around the town.

Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 20.03.12

Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 20.03.23The road pictured below is access-only for motor traffic – it ends at this point for drivers. Only cycles can progress further, either through the underpass on the right, or the cycle path on the left.

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Paths through neighbourhoods are straight and direct, and without interruptions, with priority over roads, and with bridges and underpasses where they are are needed.

Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 20.03.55

Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 20.04.04The railway station lies (literally) on one of these paths, which connects with it, and passes straight underneath the station platforms.

Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 20.03.45The town centre itself is a combination of bicycle-only streets (with rising bollards to allow deliveries) –

Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 20.00.23… and cycle streets, on which motor traffic is allowed to drive, but only for short stretches (and in one direction only) meaning those routes are only used for access by drivers, while forming straight, useful routes for cycling. (Notice the block, however, which has obviously been added because Dutch drivers were not obeying the ‘turn right’ sign).

Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 20.01.52Here’s a video flavour of this environment. It’s totally safe and inviting.

This really is a network that anyone can use, and would choose to use. When I passed through, at mid-morning, the people cycling in the town were all in normal clothes, going about their business as if they were casually walking. At this time of day, cycling was dominated by the elderly –

Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 20.01.35

Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 20.05.22and by females, in particular.

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Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 20.05.37It’s not uniformly excellent – some of the roads I cycle on in the town had no infrastructure at all, and felt distinctly British.

Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 20.06.03It may not be much to look at, but the town felt extraordinarily safe, friendly and peaceful. It’s a model of how the cycling infrastructure in our own new towns could have been constructed, with safe, direct and attractive routes everywhere you need to go, rather than discontinuous bits and bobs that abandon you unexpectedly.

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 12.46.49

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 12.49.48

Here’s a final video, showing the continuity of the infrastructure, from the railway station, right out into the countryside.

I’d like to go back to Veenendaal – I just need to persuade my partner it’s a suitable holiday destination…


This entry was posted in Fietsstraat, Infrastructure, Subjective safety, The Netherlands. Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to Picture post – Veenendaal

  1. lorenzo3249 says:

    Watch and weep. That rail underpass certainly beats the one near Horsham station, and tellingly perhaps anywhere else in the UK.

    What about Seville for a partner friendly holiday? The infra may not be up to Dutch standards (yet) but there’s more for non cycle campaigner types to see.

  2. Mike says:

    Town planning for grown-ups.

  3. What an excellent idea to take such a typical but unknown town as an example. If anyone from Veenendaal would read this post they’d probably be rather bemused. Why would anyone bother to take pictures of such ordinary things?

    Another, vital, aspect of the cycling infrastructure of Veenendaal (and one it has in common with all towns and villages in the Netherlands) that you didn’t mention in this post are the local bicycle shops. In contrast to their counterparts in Britain, these are very accessible for everyone (including women and elderly people), do not scare anyone with lycra, helmets or drop handles but instead provide the inhabitants with the type of bicycle that makes all this ordinary cycling possible. As is clearly visible in your pictures and video’s, almost everyone rides an upright bicycle, for the simple reason that they are very very comfortable. And although internet sales are increasing, I bet most of the people in your pictures will have bought their bicycle from their local shop, mainly because of the convenience of having them serviced and repaired there as well. Having your friendly shopkeeper repair your puncture is as unworthy of mentioning as the quality of the local cyclepath network – it is all a normal part of daily life. And if you don’t fancy buying a brand new bike, the bicycle shop will have a range of high quality second hand models for sale that will last you again for years to come.
    So here’s an idea (or an excuse!) for your next visit to Veenendaal: call in one of the bicycle shops and bring back a real Dutch ‘sporthybride’ to Britain, if not for yourself, than for a grateful friend or parent! In fact I was in Veenendaal myself last year to buy one of those from a dealer. This Batavus has now started a second life (among scores of other Dutch hybrids) roaming the hills of west Wales, making its rider a happy teenager (and the envy of her mates).
    Yes, it would be great if future town developments in Britain would include the type of infrastructure you found in Veenendaal. Meanwhile let’s also urge the British bicycle industry to change their selling pitch and start replacing the aberration that is the British hybrid with comfortable, practical upright bicycles.
    Comfortable bicycles will invite people to start cycling, proper infrastructure will make them feel safe enough to do so.

    • Jitensha Oni says:

      ^ this. Here’s a Dutch sportive. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4oTno629x2E

      • Koen says:

        Hilarious. Specifically the frequent mentioning of ‘the ferry of Aunty Jet’, and the message that the wheel of fortune has been taken from the attic, but to my relief the best message is at the end: the entire route is also accessible for people in invalid scooters.

    • Sanne says:

      Haha, this is so much fun to read. Apart from being born in Delft I moved to Veenendaal when I was 1,5 years old and now I’m 20 and still living in Veenendaal. First I was like, wait why are they pointing out something so ordinary? But coming to think of it, I’m never able to explain to someone how to get somewhere in Veenendaal using a car. (Though not having a drivers license yet may play a part in that). Exactly for the reason that was pointed out:
      “and cycle streets, on which motor traffic is allowed to drive, but only for short stretches (and in one direction only) meaning those routes are only used for access by drivers, while forming straight, useful routes for cycling”

      I love every second living in Veenendaal and I’m always very proud and happy in my hometown. 😀

      ps: about that friendly shopkeeper, most people repair the puncture themselves in their own back yard. Last Friday I had a blowout on my back tire then it came in handy to have so many bike shops around 🙂 And it is very common to buy a second hand bike from someone else, found through Marktplaats. Just because so many people use and sell bikes.

      • andreengels says:

        For non-Dutch people reading this: Marktplaats is a web site where people sell (mostly) second hand stuff. A lot like Ebay, but without the emphasis on bidding.

        • Marktplaats is a fantastic site for finding bicycles (there are about 25.000 used bicycles for sale at any one time!) and it is where I find most of the bicycles for my customers here in Wales. It is however not an easy site for non-Dutch people to negotiate. It is in Dutch of course, sellers will not send bikes but expect you to come round and pick them up (usually as soon as possible!) and Marktplaats itself warns sellers for buyers from abroad, which does actually frighten them off quite often.
          Having said that, for Britons looking for a quality Dutch bike for a reasonable price, it is a gigantic shop window, worth a look. Because of the enormous sales of electric bicycles (20 percent of all sales last year), there is a glut of good quality high-spec used bicycles that have been taken in as part-exchange. Marktplaats as a result is used more and more by official bicycle shops to bring this stock of second hand bicycles to the attention of a wider public in an attempt to clear out the yard. It really is a buyers market at the moment and I would like to encourage anyone to follow my example and buy Dutch ‘sporthybrides’ or ‘stadshybrides’ for family and friends who would like to take up cycling (again, but not on an another awful British hybrid!). My dream is to normalise bicycling by flooding the country with normal bikes :)! For anyone interested I’d be happy to share my experiences (www.facebook.com/beicsberno).
          Meanwhile Markplaats is a good place to start. By pouring over the bicycles on offer you’ll get a good impression of the availability of models and their prices. In general you’ll find individual sellers offering their bikes for a lower price than the shops, but if you want to avoid unexpected repairs I’d suggest you buy from a shop who will have serviced the bike themselves and made it ready to go

      • Manon says:

        Hahaha, I feel exactly the same when telling someone how to drive somewhere. I manage, but I have to think really hard to ensure I make no mistakes and use one-way lanes (in the wrong direction) or bicycle paths :p

  4. Imert Moret says:

    It’s really nice to look through British eyes to my neighborhood. It helps me to realize that many things I regard as very common, are not so common in other places of this world. I feel blessed. Thanks for posting this. Another video showing cyclists in a bigger town nearby Veenendaal: http://youtu.be/n-AbPav5E5M

  5. USBike says:

    Such amazing infrastructure and a truly people-friendly environment. I wouldn’t mind living there for the rest of my life just for the lifestyle alone.

  6. Thanks for the blog, we in Veenendaal are proud of our infrastructure! Next time let us know when you are in town, I’ll show you some nice spots in the inner city to start with!

  7. Gert says:

    Nice to see that the biking environment in Veenendaal is appreceated. I’ve lived in Veenendaal for nearly 40 years and enjoy this nearly everyday. Eye opening for me is that it’s really special for other people from abroad. Small update on your short video which might be nice to know: the biking bridge you crossed too bike towards the woods was replaced half a year ago and even safer & less bumpy. I like it, but my kids miss the shakin’ experience on that old bridge. Anyway your enthousiasm is appreceated 😉
    Grtz. Gert

  8. Inge says:

    I like that you like my town! The town is not really exceptional, but the nature reserve “de Utrechtse Heuvelrug” is. It is near the river Rhine which boosts Nice towns, castles and beautiful views. Hope to see you soon.

    • Tim says:

      For people reading from Veenendaal, I realise your town may not seem so remarkable to you but please understand how lucky you are!

      I am writing from Manchester in the north of England, where riding a bike usually means sharing busy roads with fast cars, buses and often lorries, even in the middle of town. Children and older people rarely ride bikes to get around because it feels too dangerous (so yet more car journeys!).

      And because so few people ride bikes, those who do are often viewed as strange, and it’s not uncommon to get anti-cycling criticism or abuse, just for being on a bike.

      Please make sure you appreciate your liveable towns and cities in the Netherlands – they don’t exist everywhere! I hope I can visit your area some time.

  9. I suggest you stay in Arnhem or Utrecht if you’re a city person (Wageningen was a good choice too btw), or in one of the small towns in The Utrechtse Heuvelrug or De Veluwe if you’re more into the peace and quiet of the countryside. Visit De Hoge Veluwe and explore the area on one of the famous white bikes (beware of deer and hogs). Only go to Veenendaal if you have no other option. Also, stay away from Ede.

    • meltdblog says:

      Also a mention of the lovely Amersfoort as a holiday destination.

    • arjandm says:

      Veenendaal is a fine city, it is situated just near The Utrechtse Heuvelrug. I would stay away from Arnhem and Wageningen, if u go there for shopping purposed, u have the same in Veenendaal, only in a more cozy way. The centre is more compact and in 5 minutes u are in the forrest. Parking is also less expensive than the other cities!
      So u are very welcome in Veenendaal indeed! If u want to go to Arnhem or Wageningen anyway, public transport is good in Veenendaal also with 2 train stations nearby and many buses.

  10. Marc says:

    Veenendaal and then Die … its actually pre war .. but try to find all the old stuff …MEH

  11. Marc says:

    I was born and raised in Veenendaal ..and I still live here … its buttugly and boring .. but I am happy you can travel by bike .. just about anywere from here ..

  12. Irma says:

    Dear Mark,
    Glad to read your posts on twitter.
    If you’re ever in Holland again try to visit Zwolle. Fietsstad 2014 and we’ll have a cupa at our bike messenger /postal company. And we will give you a tour around Zwolle. Which has besides a good cycling infrastructure also some historical and architectural sights. See you in Zwolle! Irma

  13. Erica says:

    Nice to read about my hometown, thank you 🙂

  14. Yep, Veenendaal is great!
    Situated in the centre of our country, between 2 highways, with 2 railwaystations, near forrests, rivers and green fields…. Lots of things to do and see within 1 hour traveling, and and yes!……….We do have a brandnew hotel now!!!

  15. RF says:

    Although you wouldn’t have guessed it when you’re driving through Veenendaal, it has a very rich history and was once an important industrial town in the Netherlands. Most of the factories are gone however, but if you’d have come here decades ago, you would have seen a typical factory-town.

  16. CML says:

    Clearly you have not been in The Netherlands much. All of the above is just common in almost EVERY city, and town in The Netherlands.

  17. Freddy says:

    There is a new nice and very comfortable hotel in Veenendaal, so you would be able to stay there. It is called Van der Valk Veenendaal or Hotel Veenendaal

  18. RJ says:

    You should also try out tHouten (a suburb of Utrecht) in The Netherlands. The town was completely designed with the idea of cycling instead of driving. According to “Happy city”it’s the safest suburb in the world: http://www.fastcoexist.com/3021483/the-safest-suburb-in-the-world-did-it-by-ending-the-culture-of-cars

  19. Joussef C.J. Overmaat says:

    If ya wanna overnight in our City,
    Just Check in at the
    Hotel Veenendaal
    Bastion 73
    3905 NJ Veenendaal

    Website. http://www.hotelveenendaal.com/contact

  20. It is quite amusing to see how many of the Dutch commentators above worry about the possibility that the blog writer, by only visiting Veenendaal, might have missed out on more scenic parts of the country. They also take pains to put right the impression that there is no overnight accomodation to be found in the town. The point of the post, picking an ordinary Dutch town to show people back home that quality infrastructure is so common in the Netherlands, doesn’t seem to sink in. In his comment, Tim tries to explain how different the situation in Britain is, but I can just imagine the blank faces of the Dutch readers (What do you mean, ‘cycling feels dangerous’? Abuse? Why?). When I’m back in the Netherlands visiting friends and family I have a hard time describing what cycling in Britain is like and why only the foolhardy and sporty people are doing it. The problem does not just lie with the lack of a safe cycling environment. I always have to explain to an incredulous audience why I’m taking Dutch bicycles to Britain. ‘Really, they haven’t got normal bikes over there?’ No, I’m afraid. Compared to the common Dutch ‘hybride’ the bog standard British bicycle, the hybrid, is very impractical as it comes without mudguards, chainguard, carrier, lock or lights, but it is its awkward forward leaning position that makes cycling such a pain for Britons. There are reasons for how this situation has come about, but the main reason why it persists is the total lack of knowledge among the Britsh public and the bicycle retailers alike about Dutch bicycles. While many Dutch have the impression that Britain is a cycling nation (fed by the obvious sporting successes and no doubt also by all that hot air coming from London), hardly anyone in Britain has ever had the experience of riding a Dutch bicycle (let alone a full-blooded Dutch hybrid with 21+ gears). The British tend to see the bike as an exercise machine and have no idea that bicycles can actually be comfortable and a pleasure to ride. For Dutch people, who prefer comfort and practicality above all else, this is something that is very hard to take in.

    With these two countries so close and the cycling culture so different, I wonder if it would be a good idea to work towards more cooperation. In this respect I find the story of Zohra very inspiring (https://aseasyasridingabike.wordpress.com/2013/05/16/a-letter-from-zohra/): After a trip with a group of 15 year olds to Munich, where they used bicycles to get around town, Zohra wrote a letter to the authorities of her home town Leeds. The answer she got was awful, but the point is that it was the experience of cycling in a safe environment in another country that enabled her to imagine improvements in her own town, and take action.
    Readers in Veenendaal (or anywhere else in the Netherlands): it is perhaps difficult to comprehend, but teenage children in Britain are bussed and driven everywhere, they never cycle. They don’t even get a proper fitting bicycle after they have outgrown the last play-bike. Could you or someone you know perhaps give these disadvantaged children the experience of the freedom your own children take for granted? A town like Veenendaal might not look appealing to you, but for British children the simple pleasure of being able to travel safely around town and out into the countryside on a comfortable Dutch bike would create a very valuable contribution to their education and a fantastic story to take home.
    Readers in Britain: I’m sure your campaigns for improvement in the local cycling infrastructure would get a enormous boost if you had a schoolclass of teenagers returning from a trip to the Netherlands, ready to tell their story about their cycling experience to the rest of the school, the papers and on social media! And I’m in no doubt you could, in exchange, put up a group of young Dutch to experience the life, language and culture in your own town.
    Is it perhaps a good time for an informal twinning of Veenendaal and Horsham?

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  22. I have delighted in the dutch comments here every bit as much as the post itself.

    “a model of how the cycling infrastructure in our own new towns [Bracknell, Stevenage et al] could have been constructed, with safe, direct and attractive routes everywhere you need to go, rather than discontinuous bits and bobs that abandon you unexpectedly.”

    Perhaps, failing your wife, you can take Mr C. Reid with you on your next trip.

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