Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Cycling between cities in the Netherlands - Part Two: Rotterdam to Gouda via Delft

After a long but enjoyable first day on the bike exploring Rotterdam I awoke to the sound of heavy rain, although thankfully the rain had eased a little by the time I was on the bike by about 8.30am. Despite the wet conditions people continued to cycle in huge numbers and my plan was to visit a few on the main roads in the centre of the city to take some photos. However as I was cycling south along Coolsingel the heavens opened and heavy, torrential rain began pounding the streets. I just happened to be directly outside a McDonalds and so, despite my ongoing commitment to not eat at a McDonalds, I would find myself eating breakfast in one for the second time in as many days. On the bright side it had an upstairs section with floor to ceiling windows which was perfect for taking photos of people cycling in the rain.

When I first planned this trip to the Netherlands I wanted to have fairly short trips between the cities I was staying at so I could take my time, slowly peddling along and stopping at regular intervals to take photos of traffic lights, cycling bins and angled kerbs, just like any normal person would whilst on holiday. Cycling from Rotterdam to Utrecht is easily achievable in a few hours, even for the slowest cyclist, however I thought it would be good to break up the trip and stop somewhere halfway. After looking at a map I concluded that that place should probably be Gouda, a city I knew absolutely nothing about except that they make cheese there. My plan, up until the previous evening, had been to cycle directly to Gouda from Rotterdam. However after estimating that this was probably only going to take about an hour and that there possibly wouldn't be a huge amount to see in Gouda itself I looked back at the map to see where else I could travel to on the way. I chose a place I'd read about on Mark Wagenbuur's blog, Delft, and decided I was going to go there by making a slight detour first via the Benelux Cycling Tunnel after having cycled through The Masstunnel in the centre of Rotterdam the day before.

I cycled west out of the city along Westzeedijk, on a two way cycle track to the left of the road until I got to a junction where I could see another two way cycle track running along the right hand side of the road and so crossed over there instead, I thought it was quite remarkable to have two way cycle tracks running along both sides of this street. I especially thought this after checking street view and comparing them to the poor, and quite frankly dangerous, painted cycle lanes that existed here a few years ago.

This layout continued through not very interesting shopping and industrial areas before reaching a fairly pleasant residential area with lots of nice examples of cycle tracks across side roads with continuous pavements, bus stop bypasses and pedestrian crossings. I then turned off onto a two way cycle track where I could hear thunderous traffic alongside but further down and out of sight, making it obvious this was the A4 motorway descending into the Benelux Tunnel. As someone who lives within hearing distance of the A12 in East London it reminded me very much of the Blackwall Tunnel Approach road. After a visit to the district of Pernis (snigger) through a park, alongside and under various busy roads I then heading back to the tunnel, safely protected from the large amount of lorries going to and from refineries. I then set off from the northern entrance of the tunnel at about 11am taking a charming cycle route beside the Poldervaart waterway.

This was a really lovely course; it had a smooth and well maintained bicycle road which took me through peaceful parkland. I then turned left onto a narrow country road alongside another waterway, before heading over a bridge to the road on the other side of the water (this was the only bridge crossing the water to be found here and it was only allowed to be used by people cycling or walking, there was no way of crossing the water in this area for people driving). This road, Rotterdamseweg,  had a two way cycle track alongside it and after cycling on it for two miles the fields and farmhouses started to give way to industrial buildings and some attractive houses as I reached the suburbs of Delft. The plan had been to continue along this road into the centre of Delft and then head to the train station but spotting the ring road above me and a cycle track leading up to it I instead opted to cycle up to have a look at the cycling provision on it. I was not disappointed as I found myself on what was probably the widest cycle track I'd been on in my trip so far, with separate slip roads leading down to the next road along and a flyover for people wanting to cycle over the road instead.

This was hardcore stuff and the type of infrastructure that is commonplace for motor traffic in the United Kingdom but I'd never seen a junction so well built just for bikes. As I travelled over the flyover and looked down it was like a proper motorway junction of tangled slip roads but just for bikes; there was some serious commitment here! Even though the exact same provision had been given to motor traffic right alongside, but on entirely separate infrastructure, it just seemed remarkable that so much effort had gone into supplying so many convenient routes solely for people cycling. I suppose I'm just used to infrastructure like this almost uniquely being built for motor traffic and anything for bikes just tagged on at the end, such as a bit of paint or a road sign. I then went past Delft Zuid train station and exited at the next junction to cycle north into the centre of Delft. I used the eastern side of an interesting roundabout which lead me onto a very nice, smooth cycle track with forgiving kerbs, so nice was it that I stopped pedalling, stepped off the bike and waited until no one was about before sending a picture of it to someone I know who appreciates these kind of things.
This excellent cycle track continued until I turned right into the area around the train station, a vast open space that is essentially mostly still a large building site. It looked very similar to the temporary road layouts found through building sites in the UK, such as the current layout at Old Street or Elephant and Castle, except people cycling were of course not expected to do so in the same space as cement mixers and construction lorries but were provided with their own safe space for cycling and the authorities had clearly gone to some effort to create these

The reason this huge building site exists is because 1.5 mile long tunnels have recently constructed under the city centre to remove the elevated train tracks and instead route trains under the city. The railway viaducts are being torn down, removing physical barriers and making it easier for people to travel across the city as well as reducing noise levels and improving the overall visual layout of the city

I got a bit lost trying to figure out how to get from the penned in protected area over to the station but soon found the crossing which led me onto a pedestrian and cycle only bridge. There was a large amount of temporary cycle parking in the building site outside, probably more cycle parking than I had ever seen at a railway station in the UK but I knew that there was more below my feet. I must admit that the cycle parking facility totally blew me away, I had never seen anything like it in my life, I set my camera to video mode and filmed row after row of bike parking, along with a little of the construction area outside. I then parked my bike up in the station and walked into the city centre where I had a very nice lunch and a cold beer whilst admiring some splendid architecture, just as the sun came out. Visiting Delft had been a last minute addition to my itinerary and I'm very glad I added it, it seemed to be a delightful city and I hope to be back again soon, once the builders have finished.

After retrieving my bike I stood alongside the station site taking pictures of the various people cycling by and was particularly taken aback at how many children were cycling along here, it being lunchtime. I exchanged a few "Heys!" with the kids but it soon became clear that some people did not appreciate me taking their photo, even if I was trying my best to disguise it as though I was taking photos of the construction work behind them. Time to move on so I followed a traffic warden on a segway alongside the water, along some cycle tracks alongside roads and then onto a bicycle road which lead me under the A13 motorway through an underpass. This bicycle road took me through a nice residential area where bicycles had their own dedicated direct route but cars did not and would have to use the main roads or motorway nearby to travel east - west from one side of this development to the other. This route was safely being used by many children and had clear visual priority when crossing the roads. I was then out into the countryside, sandwiched between the N470 and some large greenhouses. The cycle track continued unhindered through a residential area and also continued on through fields, which has all been built fairly recently as it is still just fields on google street view. I was then on a road which ran directly alongside the N470 and had painted cycle lanes on it despite it not being that busy, certainly the bikes outnumbered cars, presumably as they used the road alongside instead. That lead me onto a two way tiled cycle track along Noordeindseweg and then onto a narrow road sandwiched between greenhouses filled with thousands and thousands of strawberry plants. I must admit that I wasn't too keen to cycle here after the wonderful routes I'd been on all day, sharing the roads with tractors and lorries servicing the agricultural businesses in the area, although this was my own fault as since reviewing the route I should have used the shorter, traffic-free bicycle road further north instead.. These conditions didn't last long though as a two way cycle track soon resumed along the road at which point I turned right onto another pleasant route alongside the railway, with the A12 motorway on the other side of the railway tracks. I then needed to cross under the railway line and motorway under a huge underpass that I immediately recognised as one that Mark Treasure had previously tweeted about and used in his blog.

Again it seems remarkable coming here from the UK and seeing this kind of infratructure being built just for people cycling but it really is just an underpass (or that is certainly what the people who passed giving me odd looks as I took a photo of it thought). Again we would think nothing of this being built in Britain to accommodate a new road needing to go under the railway but just for people cycling? Good luck with that, perhaps try asking the lottery to give sustrans some money and you might be lucky to get a bridge. Anyway, I would then continue cycling alongside the motorway for several miles before I reached roadworks where I think motorway widening work was taking place as I was diverted onto what I assume was a temporary cycle track. It kept me separated from the construction vehicles though and was also safe enough for children to use. It was now early afternoon and I was reaching the outskirts of Gouda, suddenly I started to see groups of young children cycling. Wave after wave of them, some in twos or threes and others in groups of half a dozen or so. This continued again and again; it really was a remarkable sight to be caught up in the school run in this way. As I reached the very centre of Gouda I came to an odd junction where all motor traffic was held on red so as people cycling were then able to continue ahead into the ASL to wait further on. It might be revolutionary for the Bow roundabout but it seemed a rather outdated approach here, it did however gave me my first opportunity to have a large amount of people on bikes in one photograph, as up until now there had not been a situation where anyone cycling had been delayed at traffic lights for any significant amount of time
I was then in the city centre, a large part of which was not accessible for motor traffic but was for people walking and cycling. There was a large funfair in the main square in the centre and so the whole area was filled with young people and families, all of them either cycling or walking to and from their bikes. Almost every person at the supermarket was also coming and going by bike. It really was a great sight and lovely to see the freedom all of these children had. I stood there and thought of my young daughter, who I was of course missing terribly, and began to feel sad, and a little jealous if I'm honest that she wasn't here with me on my bike enjoying the funfair. That there is not anywhere in London, or any city in the UK where this situation could be replicated and it be considered normal and safe for families and young children to cycle independently on all roads in the city is a very sad situation, especially when you see what is possible here in the Netherlands where people are prioritised over cars within cities.

Rotterdam to Delft to Gouda, it had been a wonderful day on the bike, full of delightful infrastructure and interactions and not one single stressful or dangerous situation.

Distance: Approx 65km /  40 miles
Time: Approx seven hours
Photos taken: 615
Map of the route
Gallery: 62 photos here

Next Post: Cycling from Gouda to Utrecht 

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