Velsen, nominee for best cycling city

Source: DutchCycling

Velsen is one of the five nominees to become best Cycling City of the Netherlands in 2014. Chosen from a long-list of 19 municipalities, these five municipalities compete to take over the title of current best cycling city ʼs-Hertogenbosch, which was elected in 2011. I will make a small portrait of all five nominees and in reversed alphabetical order Velsen is second after Zwolle.

The municipality of Velsen and its cycle routes.

The municipality of Velsen and its cycle routes.

Even though the municipality consists of no less than 7 different boroughs, (Velsen-North, Velsen-South, IJmuiden*, Santpoort-North, Santpoort-South, Driehuis and Velserbroek) Velsen is the smallest municipality of the five nominees with a population of 67,180. Velsen is not really well-known for its cycling in the Netherlands and the town has a massive man-made barrier right through its heart: the North Sea Canal that links the port of Amsterdam with the North Sea. This year’s theme for Best Cycling City is “Cycling without barriers” so that seems to be a bit odd. But when I visited the town I experienced a good cycling climate that also seems to be improving.

In a general traffic study of 2010, the reason for Velsen’s good cycling policy might be found in this paragraph: “Cycling can be a way to reduce motor-traffic and contribute to a more liveable Velsen. […] Analysis indicates that a regional high-speed cycle route (F22) can increase cycling on mid-to-long-range distances. Combined with the development in e-bikes this can be a good measure to decrease the pressure of motor traffic on secondary routes.” So getting people to make the shift from car to bicycle seems to be the incentive to create a good cycling environment. Which doesn’t have to be bad as long as there is true commitment to really create a good alternative to that car.

Of course words are always easy and the Velsen Cycling Policy Plan from 2010 has beautiful words, such as the main objective:

“Stimulating cycling and improving the competitiveness of cycling as opposed to the car”

The main goals in the cycling policy are familiar too:

  • building connected, safe and direct cycle routes
  • dealing with hazardous traffic situations
  • building pleasant and attractive cycle routes
  • building safe cycle routes to school
  • stimulating and facilitating traffic education
  • offering sufficient and qualitatively good cycle parking facilities
  • completing and improving the recreational cycle network.

All well and good, but how is Velsen going to achieve this? If we dig a bit further in the report we find that the Dutch Cyclists’ Union (Fietsersbond) evaluated cycling in Velsen earlier (2008). As strong points they reported:

  • A very good traffic safety record. Cycling in Velsen is objectively low-risk.
  • Pleasant cycling infrastructure. Not much nuisance by other traffic. Cycle tracks are not too narrow and often cycling has priority.
  • High population density and many destinations within cycling distances.

Weak points were reported to be:

  • Cycling is not competitive with the car. Trips are seldom faster by bicycle and parking costs for cars are low.
  • The North Sea Canal is a geographical barrier. The ferry takes much time and that makes that average cycle speeds are very low. Taking the ferry also requires to make considerable detours.
  • Noisy cycle routes. Because cycle routes are alongside routes for motor traffic, there is a lot of noise from that motor traffic.
  • Comfort. Tiles and brick surfaces increase vibrations while cycling and decrease pleasantness.
  • The number of cycle trips is lower than average for medium-sized towns. 32% of all trips where 34% is the average.
  • Cycling policies are not very well developed and the budget for cycling is unclear.
  • People cycling complain about the cycling environment in Velsen. People note that there is a lot of theft and parking possibilities are not up to [the very high Dutch] standards.

So has Velsen done any concrete work to remedy these weak points in the four years since this report? Yes, that seems to be the case. Problem junctions have been reconstructed, many cycle tracks have a smooth surface of red asphalt now and the municipality has even tried to do something about the ferry, the biggest barrier in town. That ferry across the North Sea Canal had its own paragraph.

“The North Sea Canal is a barrier between the north and south IJmond region. Only at the locks and with the ferry (1x every 20 minutes) the canal can be crossed. The ferry is a vital element in the existing cycling infrastructure. At the same time crossing the large body of water increases – also because of the waiting times – the travel time of cycling between destinations north and south of the canal. It is a wish to decrease the longer travel times because of the ferry. We have asked the city of Amsterdam to increase the frequency of the ferry.”

The ferry in Velsen is almost the only way to get from north to south and vice versa. It takes a lot of time and it is therefore a huge barrier to cycling in Velsen.

The ferry in Velsen is almost the only way to get from north to south and vice versa. It takes a lot of time and it is therefore a huge barrier to cycling in Velsen.

But the city of Amsterdam (which is in charge of the ferry across this canal, 20 kilometres from Amsterdam itself) has apparently not increased the number of ferries. You can still only cross the canal three times per hour. It does run non-stop, night and day, but still only 3 times per hour. This may be the reason the 2013 “Regional Mobility Vision for the IJmond Region” proposes a whole new ferry service for only cyclists and pedestrians in addition to the existing ferry (that is shared with motor traffic unfit to use one of the two motor-tunnels under the canal, due to its size or transport of dangerous goods). That the ferry only goes 3 times an hour leads to dangerous situations. There is a traffic light controlled junction near the south terminal and when people cycling see the ferry is about to leave they have been seen to disregard red lights to make sure they catch that particular ferry.

This “dual-carriage way cycle path” may become part of a future “high-speed cycle route” in the IJmond region. (F22). With its large central reservation and distance to the foot way it seems to offer us a glimpse of the future of cycling in the Netherlands.

This “dual-carriage way cycle path” may become part of a future “high-speed cycle route” in the IJmond region. (F22). With its large central reservation and distance to the foot way it seems to offer us a glimpse of the future of cycling in the Netherlands.

The most striking piece of new cycling infrastructure I saw in Velsen was the “dual-carriageway cycle path” connecting the north ferry terminal with Velsen-North. This route may become part of the regional high-speed cycle route F22, if that is indeed to be built. The stretch offers a glimpse of what might be the future of cycling in the Netherlands.

This is what the location of the “dual-carriage way cycle path” looks like in Google Streetview. It shows you the 2009 situation. (The house in the distance can serve as point of reference.) The carriage way for motor traffic vanished.

This is what the location of the “dual-carriage way cycle path” looks like in Google Streetview. It shows you the 2009 situation. (The house in the distance can serve as point of reference.) The carriage way for motor traffic vanished.

So Velsen is doing great things for cycling not only in theory but also on the streets. Will it be enough though? All in all I fear the town is the outsider of the five nominees with only little chance of winning the title. But I may be surprised by the jury.

My video portrait of Velsen.