The Dutch are of course famous for their cycling, but this does not mean they don’t build roads. Far from it – the Dutch build roads on a vast scale, and seem just as addicted to it, if not more so, than the British. If you cycle between Dutch towns and cities you will frequently encounter enormous motorways and roads. Although the crucial difference is how you encounter them.
One example I have cycled through a couple of times now is a very large motorway/main road junction between the New Town of Zoetermeer and the city of Gouda. The most prominent aspect of it is this distinctive, open, cycling/walking underpass.
However, we can see from an aerial view that this is actually only one small part of the way cycling has been designed for at this junction. Circled in red, it is only one of a series of underpasses here, in this (huge) roadbuilding scheme.
The main underpass is just the middle one of three, passing under a slip road off the A12 motorway. There is an underpass under the motorway itself, to the north, and under the intercity railway line to the south. The photograph below shows this a little more clearly, with a train in view, and the motorway underpass just visible in the background.
The only reason the underpass is so large is because the road that sits on it has to climb up and over the motorway. All the cycleways remain flat, at ground level. And of course there are underpasses running in all directions at this location, allowing people making everyday walking and cycling trips to pass painlessly through and across this area, without interacting with motor traffic at all.
To illustrate this, I shot a video of me cycling the route shown below, from top middle, through the junction, then east towards the city of Gouda.
This is a route through the junction that I suspect only a few hundred people might make a day, if that – this is a sparsely populated area, dominated by farming. Yet these underpasses are an integral part of the junction design, and allow anyone to serenely negotiate this very hostile environment.
As you can see, I only meet one other person on this short trip. These are not high-volume cycle paths. But they are essential. Whatever your views on large-scale roadbuilding, the presence of these paths maintains directness and safety for people walking and cycling; it is effectively as if the motorway and its assorted paraphernalia is not there. This even extends to insulating people from the road and the motorway, especially where people live close to it – for instance, the noise barrier that can be seen at the start of the video.
I could clearly hear people talking to each other in the yard of the house to the right as I took this photograph, thanks to the clear barrier that separated me (and the house) from the road visible in the background.
The Dutch have these kinds of massive roads and motorways across the country, but, crucially, they do not form barriers to people walking and cycling, nor do they even have to be engaged with. They will almost always be crossed in this way, either through underpasses, or over bridges, all part of the design process.
I don’t particularly like big roads, but it is certainly impressive to see how cycling has been integrated into these large engineering schemes, and how people of all kinds can go about their daily business in comfort and safety.